Himachal Pradesh Elections: It's Congress' 'Local Connect' vs BJP's Modi Factor

Congress leaders with a strong local connect are giving the BJP a run for its money in the Himachal Pradesh polls.

Hindi Female

"Mukesh ne yahaan koi samasya chhodi hoti, tab batata yahaan kya samasya hai (Had Mukesh left any problem unattended, I would have told you what the problems in the area are," says Vinod Kumar, a shopkeeper from Haroli in Himachal Pradesh's Una district.

'Mukesh' that Kumar is talking about is sitting Congress MLA from Haroli, Mukesh Agnihotri, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly.

Kumar goes on to list the work Agnihotri has done in the seat - a new secretariat building, a civil hospital, a bridge connecting Haroli and Una, a skill development centre etc.

Many people mentioned the bridge in particular, as it has reduced travel time to Haroli significantly.


Kumar is not a committed Congress supporter and says he is a fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This is a trend that one is seeing across several seats in Himachal Pradesh, that the strong local connect of individual Congress leaders is neutralising the Modi-factor in the Assembly elections, at least in those areas.

'Haroli Mein Mukesh, Dilli Mein Modi'

Rajinder Sharma, another resident, says Mukesh Agnihotri is always accessible despite being Leader of the Opposition.

"He keeps visiting the constituency and his team is also easily accessible on phone. He is not like the kind of leaders who sit in AC and make people wait in the heat," he says.

Sharma, too, says he voted for Modi in 2019 and may again do it in 2024.

"Hamare liye bilkul clear hai...Haroli mein Mukesh, Dilli mein Modi (It's absolutely clear for us - in Haroli, we want Mukesh Agnihotri, in Delhi we want PM Modi," Sharma says.

Congress leaders with a strong local connect are giving the BJP a run for its money in the Himachal Pradesh polls.

(Locals say Mukesh Agnihotri is approachable)

(Mukesh Agnihotri Facebook Page)

In seats where Congress has a strong candidate, it has managed to localise the contest and counter both the Modi factor as well as BJP's greater resources.

A similar trend can be seen in the high-profile Dalhousie seat in Chamba district, presently held by senior Congress leader Asha Kumari. The BJP had secured close to 80 percent votes in the segment in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But at the Assembly level, it is finding it difficult to challenge Asha Kumari, who is also from the area's royal family.


"She has done a lot of work in the area - not just in Dalhousie and Banikhet but remote parts of the seat as well," says Sanjiv Tandon, who is in the transport business besides being involved in the local Ramlila committee.

"I don't believe in change for the sake of it. If a leader has done work, people will keep electing her. This is why Asha Kumari wins here," he says.

A few people, however, said that some work did get stalled in Dalhousie as the Congress was not in power in the state. This is also an argument that is being cited by BJP supporters in such seats - that the party is bound to be in power at the Centre, so to get work done it's better to have BJP at the local and state level as well.


Congress Tries to Turn a Weakness Into a Strength

With the death of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh in 2021, the Congress is facing a major leadership vacuum in Himachal Pradesh. At one point it seemed as if infighting would pull the party in different directions.

But the party leaders seem to have closed ranks to some extent at least for the duration of the election campaign.

Now, the party is trying to turn the absence of one single pan-state leader into an advantage by giving prominence to different people in different areas.

So in greater Shimla region it is Virbhadra Singh's family - his wife and Mandi MP Pratibha Singh is the state Congress chief and son Vikramditya Singh is the candidate from Shimla Rural.

In Una district, Mukesh Agnihotri is the main face, the there's Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu in Hamirpur district, Kaul Singh Thakur and Rajinder Rana in Mandi district, Asha Kumari in Chamba district, Dhani Ram Shandil in Solan and the Butail family in Kangra district.

Projecting any one leader may have been counter-productive and led to heartburn among other leaders.


BJP's Counter-Attack

Understanding the Congress' reliance on strong local leaders, the BJP has stepped up its offensive in these areas by putting up strong challengers and initiating new projects.

For instance in Agnihotri's turf Haroli, the BJP government at the Centre announced a massive drug park project. Locally Dr Ram Kumar was given a free hand in trying the leverage the project to maximise electoral support for the BJP. He is now the BJP's candidate against Agnihotri and is said to be giving him a stiff challenge.

Then in Dalhousie, BJP's DS Thakur is said to have pushed for starting a college in Banikhet to address the demand for more higher education institutions in the area. This has led to some increase in support for him in his electoral challenge against Asha Kumari and the seat is also witnessing a close fight now.

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