BJP Might Win, but the Drama Is Far from over in Himachal
BJP Might Win, but the Drama Is Far from over in Himachal
(Photo: Erum Gour/The Quint)

BJP Might Win, but the Drama Is Far from over in Himachal

Everyone wants to know who will win the Himachal Pradesh elections. Will it be the 19th state to be ruled by a BJP-led government in India?

While the results will be out on 18 December The Quint spoke to Vepa Rao, renowned journalist and retired prof and chairman of journalism and mass communication department at Himachal University, to answer the key questions that will help analyse who will eventually take the cake.

What has BJP’s campaign strategy been on the ground?

The strategy of the right wing has been to capitalise on the anti-incumbency mood against the Congress as well as the Himachali voters’ attitude of alternating between the two parties. The BJP’s strategy has been centered around lodging personal attacks against Congress CM Virbhadra Singh by singling him out.

They’ve spoken of the corruption cases pending against him, that he has not handled administration well, and that under his leadership development has failed enormously. Everything is a personal attack.

They feel if they demolish Singh’s image then Congress will be decimated in the state as the Congress relies mainly and probably only on Virbhadra Singh for mandate and popularity with the Himachalis.

A Comment on the BJP’s strategy this assembly election?

While the anti-incumbency mood is working for them, there is no denying that the BJP’s strategy on the ground has not been perfect. In the 2012 assembly elections there was barely any anti-incumbency against the BJP and Prem Kumar Dhumal was doing excellently. No one thought the Congress would form government.

Congress wasn’t supposed to form government in Himachal in 2012, the BJP made a mistake then and they are repeating it now.

What was the mistake? To single out Virbhadra Singh. They used the same strategy and that boomeranged. They made scathing personal attacks and the hillfolk, who are loyal and emotional people, felt he was being unnecessary willified. They voted for Singh in large numbers and he won and formed government. The same thing is happening again.

Till Narendra Modi and Amit Shah came, BJP definitely had a considerable advantage. They still have the edge, but attacks launched against Virbhadra Singh will not go well with the people. There is precedence for this in the 2012 elections. The BJP should have continuously invoked Vajpayee, that would have been a better mantra when there was already an anti-incumbency mood in place. Whereas the Congress is a one-man show in Himachal the BJP’s party culture is vastly different. RSS, ABVP and other wings which have to play a role in their campaigning.

When Dhumal and BJP lost the elections in 2012 it was these sister organisations like the RSS and ABVP who advised and pressurised him to launch a campaign against Singh. They did the same thing again.

Was the incumbent govt under pressure or able to successfully campaign against the BJP?

I think the Congress has campaigned quite well against BJP despite the fact the party has been more faction-ridden. Despite several people leaving in their desire to be the chief ministerial candidate, the Congress has done well.

Big names came and campaigned for the BJP but Virbhadra Singh has been seen fighting a lone battle. This perception might work well with the hillfolk who are loyal and emotional.

The reality remains that in both the BJP and Congress, only Dhumal and Singh have the necessary pan-Himachal popularity to win the election.

How much will it hit BJP that they didn’t declare a CM candidate before?

It was simply foolish of the BJP to declare Dhumal as the CM candidate only 10 days prior to when campaigning had to end. If they had done this one month or 6 weeks earlier BJP would win without a shred of doubt.

They realised too late that Dhumal was the only BJP leader who would alone be accepted in Himachal. In a small hill state like ours where the total population is over 70 lakh, personal factors weigh a great deal. It is an extremely chief minister-centric state.

An example to make someone understand this who isn’t from Himachal is that, if I am a teacher posted somewhere which is 12 hours away from home, I will go to the CM’s office and request for a transfer. Hence, it is important to relate to your CM. While declaring Dhumal was smart it should have come earlier. How much could he campaign in 10 days?

Is corruption that important a concern in HP? Will it be the deciding factor for voting?

I wonder. Singh’s popularity as a person and Raja is massive. Yes, in the last one or two years it has taken a beating as he has become old and isn’t as ajile, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he is seen as a kind-hearted and emotionally committed person. As far as corruption goes, the amount was not convincing compared to the massive amounts against other leaders. The people believe he is a rich man anyway, has all the money in the world, so what is the need for him to go down this route? That being said, as mentioned earlier there is definitely anti-incumbency in the air.

What is it that both campaigns lacked? What do the people of Himachal need at this point?

Now this goes for the Congress and BJP in equal proportions. Both parties have been unable to convince the people that they mean business. When they talk of programmes and projects, they aren’t able to convince the hillfolk that they will carry on the promises. There is considerable scepticism on the ground against both parties.

It is the failure of our political culture that all the talk in this election isn’t able to convince the people of Himachal of the intentions of either party to do good for the people.

The people want Himachal to develop but that hasn’t happened. There is a general feeling then that only those associated with the party get contracts and jobs. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs in Himachal.

The BJP won all four Lok Sabha seats. Modi had said, “Tum mujhe 4 kamal dena aur main Himachal ko Gujarat banaunga,” now people are asking what did they get? Modi’s promises were so tall but his performance was dwarfed by his campaigning.

What can we expect on 18 December and onwards?

The drama is far from over in Himachal. While the consensus is that BJP will probably win in Himachal and form government, the margins in every seat will be not be as high as expected.

The factionalism in Congress is massive and it is very possible that after winning the MLAs will cross over to the BJP or form a separate party to help BJP form government.

On the other hand even if the Cong comes close to BJP, don’t forget the factionalism in Congress is massive. Many Congress leaders are against Virbhadra and it is very possible that after winning they will cross over to the BJP or form a separate party to help BJP form government.

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