Himachal Pradesh that goes to the polls on November 12 is once again witnessing an electoral battle on real issues. The issues are being aired and countered by the political leaders and their campaigners, while the public is silently observing what the politicians have to offer. The voters here are now weighing their options.

Unlike several other states where politicians are able to set narratives on communal issues and caste factors, the voter in Himachal Pradesh, refuses to be taken for a ride. They are focussed on issues that matter to them.

This makes the current polls all the more interesting. Here the question is whether the people are willing to give another chance to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) despite it facing an anti incumbency mood. The BJP is still promising a lot through its 'double engine' propagation. Or will the people of HP want to once again revert to the grand old party – the Congress?

A visit by this reporter to some of the constituencies in lower parts of Kangra and Hamirpur districts established that the people are clear about their priorities. The issues that are dominating the poll narrative include the old pension scheme for the employees, followed by employment concerns among the youth and inflation.

A hidden issue is anger against the Agnipath scheme of recruitment in security forces. This is not a part of the political campaign narrative but is ranking high in the conscience of the masses.

A major challenge for reporters in this hill state is getting hold of neutral observers. A small state with a small population that is high on literacy, has resulted in people aligning with one side of the political spectrum or the other.

The Congress leaders including senior central leader Priyanka Gandhi have been attacking the BJP on the latter's failure in reverting to the old pension scheme. The party has promised to announce a reversal in the very first cabinet meeting if it forms the government.

But the BJP has a counter that was reflected by its leader Pawan Sharma in Nadaun constituency in Hamirpur when he told this reporter, "The old pension scheme has not been there for almost two decades now. What stopped the Congress from reverting to it when it was in power from 2012 to 2017? Secondly, this reversal can only be possible when there is a concurrence between the central and the state governments."

The Congress spokesperson in Dehra Sapan Sood said, "The Congress had wanted to revert to the old scheme but was voted out before it could initiate the process."

It is the issue of employment that is finding a central space among the voters who point out the multiple dimensions of the problems. An interaction with several people across Dhaliara, Dehra, Nadaun and Jwalaji revealed that there is anger among the people on there being no jobs in the first place and then on the underemployment.

They say that the educated youth is left in the lurch. Even the statistical claims over the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) are being contested with people calling it a hogwash at several places.

"I run a computer training centre. The students after completing the course do not find jobs that fetch them more than Rs 5000 to Rs 8000 after working for four to five years at local enterprises. This works for them if they live in the houses owned by their parents within close proximity of their workplace but is definitely not enough to run a family on their own," pointed out Shashi Kumar who is supporting the Congress candidate Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu in Nadaun.

"You will find women from every family in the villages lining up for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) jobs to pitch in to the earnings of the male members. This was not the case earlier in this area where traditional patriarchal norms have a strong presence," said Vijay Thakur who resides in a village close to Nadaun town.

A government employee from Dhaliara added to the narrative disclosing, "even the private agencies hiring for jobs like that of security guards or receptionists first ask the applicants to deposit Rs 1000 for registration and another Rs 1000 for uniform even before they start working. Long working hours with no additional perks and humiliations by employers come on the sidelines."

Perhaps this is the reason that the resentment against Agnipath scheme is not finding an echo in poll narrative at a pitch that was expected. The BJP workers negate any resentment or opposition to the initiative pointing at the huge turnout at the recruitment rallies for defence and paramilitary forces. They are also trying to convey to the people that the state government will give priority to recruitment to Agniveers who superannuate after four years of service.

The Congress workers point out that, "the situation is so grim that the youth has no option but to line up for even a four year stint as it would fetch him money and employment even though for a short while. The people clearly understand the difference between temporary and permanent vocation. Their silence does not mean that they have accepted what has been dished out to them."

The constituencies in lower Himachal Pradesh are known for their high contribution to the defence and paramilitary forces. As one moves across villages one can see memorials and statues erected of the jawans and officers who have made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty that dot the rural landscape.

There are families that have been sending their wards to the forces for generations. Even among the youth in these villages a job in the defence forces is a dream.

Inflation is another factor that is high on the mind of the voters in this area. "Till a few days ago cauliflower was selling at Rs 120 per kg and even a kg is not enough for a family of four. Additional ingredients like potato, onion, garlic and ginger along with oil make it pretty expensive. Do our earnings match this high cost? There are many who are now preferring consuming more pulses than vegetables. What can a commoner do since these things are never on the agenda of the political leaders," rued a lady resident who was purchasing vegetables just outside the famous Jwalamukhi temple.

Kangra district with its 15 of the total 68 Assembly constituencies has played the deciding role in successive assembly polls in the state. It has the largest say in any government that is formed. The district has given a chief minister in Shanta Kumar to the state in the past on two occasions.

The adjoining Hamirpur district sends five legislators to the Assembly. It has also given a chief minister in Prem Kumar Dhumal on two occasions. Both these leaders were from the BJP. This time around it is Sukhu from Hamirpur district who is one of the probables for the post from the Congress.

The rookie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has failed to make much of an impact in these areas despite their close proximity to Punjab where the party swept to power in March this year. It was eyeing a spillover impact in Himachal but that has not happened. Yet the party has marked its presence and has the potential to come up as an alternative to the two traditional power houses in future.

The party's leader Ranjit Rishi told this reporter at Dehra, "An ailing person tries one doctor after the other to get his ailment treated. This is what the people are experiencing with the Congress and the BJP from whom they have failed to get solutions to their problems. They are now looking at AAP. Our focus is on governance and people understand that we mean business."

It can be gauged from the mood of the voter, who is otherwise silent, that the BJP is on the defensive on many issues. But the question remains whether the Congress can get this sentiment converted into votes. For the BJP he votes are being sought once again in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the double engine narrative.

The Congress workers are wary of an aggressive campaign and pinch hitting by the BJP's central leadership in the slog overs. They confess that their central leadership is not in a position to match the BJP's onslaught. They are keeping their campaign highly localised targeting regional issues while focusing on the reach out to the individual voters in remote villages.