Emotional Outbursts Mark Himachal Pradesh Politics
Both Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party are now becoming a hotbed of differences and defections
The cold winds blowing through the hills, and the heated efforts of political workers are competing with each other in Himachal Pradesh. The election campaign now enters into the final stage here. The polling is scheduled for November 12, and the potential candidates have barely a fortnight left.
Conducting elections in the state has always been a challenge for the Election Commission officials, not because of any law and order threat but due to the challenges posed by the difficult terrain and harsh weather conditions. This is the time when winter starts setting in and some of the mountains in the higher reaches are already donning the white mantle.
The forthcoming polls are the first when there is no heavyweight or 'super heavyweight' Chief Ministerial face leading either of the two traditional rivals, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Till the previous polls, if it was leaders such as Dr Y. S. Parmar and Virbhadra Singh that had led the grand old party, the saffron camp was led by the likes of Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The elections in 2017 had seen an aged and ailing Virbhadra Singh leading the Congress while it was Dhumal at the forefront for the BJP's camp. Both had moved out of the constituencies that they were representing.
Ironically, Dhumal lost from Sujanpur despite being the chief ministerial face of the party while Virbhadra had won from Arki. Congress' Virbhadra Singh passed away last year, and this time Dhumal has been denied a ticket by the BJP
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur is yet to 'graduate' to their stature. He is often dubbed as an 'accidental' chief minister given the circumstances under which he was anointed to the post after the BJP had swept the last Assembly polls in the state. Observers point out that he is leading the BJP's charge more in the capacity of the leader of the House than as a popular CM.
The Congress on the other hand is moving ahead under the model of collective leadership and fireworks are expected if it manages to secure a majority. There have been some very interesting developments in the run up to the polls till now.
The first is that both the Congress and the BJP have witnessed rebellions and defections. While these processes have come to be associated largely with the Congress in the past, they have come to hound the BJP as well. The BJP is a force that always took pride in calling itself a disciplined, cadre based unit besides being 'a party with a difference'. Its detractors are now referring to it as a 'party with differences'.
"The Congress was seen as a force fragmented into groups from much before but it is the factionalism in the BJP that has come to the fore in the distribution of the tickets and rebels raising their heads. Anyone who has an understanding of the affairs of the BJP can see how the 'Dhumal group' has come to be decimated and it is the group loyal to the party's national president Jagat Prakash Nadda that is calling the shots," pointed an observer.
There has been a lot of drama and emotional outpourings on display. Ram Lal Thakur , one of the senior most Congress leaders, found it difficult to contain his emotions when he quit as the vice president of the state unit, pointing at leaders pulling the party in different directions. Some BJP leaders have been seen in the same mode recently. Thakur had said that he would continue to work as the head of the election management committee.
Union Minister Anurag Thakur was also unable to control his emotions and tears last week while he addressed the people of Sujanpur. This is the constituency from where Dhumal, his father, had lost in 2017 and wanted to contest again this time. However, the party chose to field Ranjit Singh and Anurag had come to seek support for him. His voice kept choking as he mentioned Dhumal's commitment to the people, the party and the organisation.
Then it was Bilaspur's sitting MLA Suresh Thakur who reportedly cried when he was denied the ticket despite being close to Nadda. The party has instead fielded his protégé Trilok Jamwal who was also the chief minister's political advisor.
There was an emotional outburst from BJP's Praveen Sharma as well who filed his nomination as an independent in Mandi after being denied a ticket. In his strong message on social media he said, "Praveen symbolises thousands of workers of any political party on whose strength you come to power and then ignore the same workers".
It remains to be seen how many rebels the two main political parties are able to pacify by the time the votes are cast.
Another interesting narrative that has come up in the poll campaign till now is around the personality of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Many observers feel that the Congress workers are repeatedly making references to her in a sustained effort to present a strong personality to counter the present day image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the BJP workers have been marketing.
It was during Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi's rally in Solan where she launched the party's poll campaign that the slogan 'Priyanka nahi yeh aandhi hai, doosri Indira Gandhi hai' (It is not Priyanka but a tornado, she is the second Indira Gandhi) had reverberated. The Congress old timers had gone around the town reminding the locals of Indira Gandhi's last rally at the same venue of Thodo Ground. Even Priyanka in her speech had made several references to Indira's love for Himachal and her respect for the hard working, honest people of the state.
Interestingly, it was a former BJP minister who made a reference to Indira Gandhi on social media in context of Anurag Thakur's emotional outburst in Sujanpur.
"Leaders have to maintain courage even in adverse circumstances. In this context, the example of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ji is very inspirational. Sanjay Gandhi's death was in an air accident. Indira ji maintained her patience even in this very sad moment.
"Although it was very difficult for a mother to have such patience in such a moment, she controlled herself and refrained from crying. When a journalist later asked her about this, Indira ji's answer was that I could cry as a mother but as the country's Prime Minister my crying could hurt the dignity of the Prime Minister's post. It is expected that the leaders will be able to take inspiration from this example of Indira ji," wrote Mohinder Nath Sofat who was a minister in the Shanta Kumar led BJP government in early 1990s.
The BJP' tagline for its 'Mission Repeat' is 'Naya Riwaz Banayenge, Phir BJP layenge' (we will start a new tradition by re-electing BJP). Jai Ram Thakur has been stating, "The country's history is witness to the fact that the Congress has always misled the people for power. When it was in power, the emphasis was on scams and breaking the country instead of public welfare. Come let's break the tradition and give a befitting response to the Congress leaders."
The Congress on the other hand has been calling for a change in the face of an 'inefficient' and 'anti people' BJP government in the state. As the chairman of the party's intellectual cell Vijay Pal Singh said, "It is not a vote to change the 'Satta' government but the 'Vyavastha' system."
This small state has around 60 lakh voters of which 2737845 are female, 2854945 males and 38 registered under the third gender category. The recent addition of voters includes 1.93 lakh voters between 18-19 years of age.