The Congress has registered an emphatic victory in the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) elections trouncing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Polling to the 34 wards was held on May 2 and the results were declared on Thursday.

The Congress candidates won 24 seats while the BJP failed to touch the double digit mark with only nine of its candidates returning victorious. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) continued to retain its stronghold of Summer Hill that houses the Himachal Pradesh University that has long been a left bastion for the fifth straight time. Rookie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) failed to open its account.

The SMC polls in Himachal Pradesh are a high profile affair and are considered to be a political barometer measuring the public mood. Till the previous occasion these polls used to be held about six months prior to the state Assembly polls but this time they had been delayed by a year.

Although the term of the previous municipal corporation board had come to an end last year, the polls could not be held because of a legal case regarding delimitation of wards. The BJP had won the SMC polls for the first time in 2017. This time there were 102 candidates in fray for the polls that recorded around 59 per cent turnout despite inclement weather conditions.

The previous BJP government under Jai Ram Thakur had increased the number of wards from 34 to 41. This decision was reversed by the present Congress government under Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu after it came to power.

The BJP had justified its action saying that it was for a balanced development while its detractors had been calling the step politically motivated and against the public interest. The BJP detractors have even accused the saffron party of ‘systematically ensuring the delay’ of SMC polls by a year saying that a loss would have had an immediate bearing on the Assembly polls that were held in November last year.

The resounding Congress victory coming just a year ahead of the Lok Sabha polls is a morale booster for the grand old party in the state while it’s a wakeup call for the BJP. It needs to be noted that this was the first major test for Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu ever since he was anointed to the top post. Sukhu has himself been a councillor from the city and has emerged from the party ranks.

For the Congress it was Sukhu along with the party’s state unit chief Pratibha Singh and his deputy Mukesh Agnihotri who had led the campaign. On the other hand the BJP’s charge was led by former chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and other top leaders along with union minister Anurag Thakur who held a road show.

Thakur along with BJP’s national president Jagat Prakash Nadda hails from this hill state where political awareness is quite high among the people. It was midway during the campaign that the BJP saw a change of guard when its state unit chief Suresh Kashyap was replaced by Nadda’s ‘confidante’ Rajeev Bindal.

The SMC has its historical importance as well. It is one of the oldest municipal corporations in the country despite the town having a paltry population in the past.

According to the civic body’s historical account, “Soon after the first ‘permanent’ house of Shimla was built in 1822, some forms of civic governance began emerging. The first set of these measures were connected with policing. Then, in the 1830s, when William Bentinck, the British Governor-General was to visit Shimla, arrangements were made to handle the water sources so that he and his entourage would not be inconvenienced.

These informal arrangements gave way to the constitution of the Shimla Municipal Committee in December, 1851 making this the oldest municipality in pre-Independence Punjab. This was done under the provisions of Act XXVI of 1850. Given the small size and population of Shimla at the time, it also was one of the richest.”

The town with its set of problems today reflects the plight of the hill stations across the country whether it comes to managing its exploding construction, environment, transportation, traffic jams or dealing with issues of waste management and water availability.

In the elections that have just been concluded the BJP had campaigned on the plans launched under the Smart City plan. The Congress on the other hand had campaigned on taking concrete measures for regularisation of multi storied buildings, clearance for building plans submitted before 2017 and a uniform tax regime.

The Left had tried to bring before the people how the BJP regime at the centre had given precedence to Dharamshala over Shimla in declaring it a Smart City and it was CPM’s efforts that brought the project to the state’s capital after former mayor Sanjay Chauhan had filed a legal case against the BJP regime at the centre and the Congress regime in the state. It had also campaigned for people-friendly policy interventions.

After the declaration of the results, Sukhu tweeted, “I thank the people of Himachal for their historical mandate to @INCHimachal in Shimla Municipal Corporation where elections were held on the party symbol after 10 years. Congress is reaching its highest ever tally in Shimla Municipal Corporation. This mandate affirms the trust of people of Himachal Pradesh in our government and developmental politics.”

Jai Ram Thakur while accepting the mandate of the people said that the Congress tried to influence the poll outcome and did not receive an organic mandate. He said the Congress announced an instalment of dearness allowance to employees and ordered regularizations, something that could have been done three months back also.

Pratibha while thanking the voters gave credit of the victory to the Congress workers who worked with ‘dedication’ and ‘sincerity’. She claimed that the victory has resulted from pro people policies of the Congress government in the state.

Meanwhile, the CPM has termed the poll results as rejection of the BJP’s policies over the last five years by the people of the city. “In this election, the people have given their vote against the anti-people policies of the BJP which promote inflation, unemployment and privatisation. In the last 5 years, the BJP government and SMC privatised basic services like water and increased the rates of services like garbage collection, made them expensive, banned recruitment and promoted privatisation of services.

“Due to these policies of the BJP, there was a lot of resentment among the public that is clearly visible in the election results today. This is also a clear signal for the new Congress government and the upcoming new SMC in the coming times that public opinion is against these anti-people policies and it should reverse them and provide relief to the public,” Sanjay Chauhan, former mayor and party’s district secretary said.