Intrigue, masala, poaching, embarrassments, allegations and counter allegations are some of the elements that have been the hallmark of elections in India. They also make the process interesting. All these elements are now getting displayed on the chessboard of politics in Himachal Pradesh that goes to polls in about three months from now.

Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are battling it out in the high stake political fight. It is a matter of survival and revival for the nationally beleaguered Congress. The BJP wants to defy history and repeat the government in the state which is also the home turf of the party's national president Jagat Prakash Nadda.

There have been developments in both the parties that point to their shortcomings and potential bloopers. Their leaders and foot soldiers will have difficulties in answering questions when they go before the electorate during the campaign.

The BJP stepped on a landmine when moves to install a new chairperson and members of the Himachal Pradesh Public Service Commission (HPPSC) boomeranged. It brought a lot of embarrassment to the government led by Jai Ram Thakur. The drama started last Wednesday with the announcement of the panel. A former journalist who was earlier a member was appointed chairperson, along with three others.

They were scheduled to take their oath of office the next morning but could not and the ceremony was postponed. While there have been explanations from various quarters that cannot be easily digested, the grapevine buzz is that the move was scuttled from within the BJP. It is being said that some people had even approached the central leadership on the issue.

The Congress was quick to launch an attack raising pertinent questions. Senior leader Naresh Chauhan said, "Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur must clarify to the people of Himachal what prompted the government to go about these appointments in a prestigious institution of HPPC in such a fishy manner. This is election year and most of the recruitments are to be made through HPPSC. Does it mean that the present government wanted to give appointments in HPPSC to its favourites so that people of a particular political ideology could be given jobs?"

He said there was a big question mark on the Chief Minister's decision to adjust a 'favourite'. The person in question was already a member for five years and was then elevated as chairperson for six more years.

People are questioning the appointment of 'favoured' journalists to an institution like the HPPSC. But it was a trend started by former Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh who too had appointed one of his favourites to the post during his last tenure.Observers say that the whole episode has resulted in Jai Ram's image taking a big hit and his coming out as a 'weak' chief minister.

Another development in the BJP saw the return of its former minister, speaker and party president Rajiv Bindal as the president of 'chunav prabandhan' (poll management) committee. Jai Ram, meanwhile, heads the chunav sanchalan (poll steering) committee. Bindal had quit as state party president in 2020 citing 'high moral values' when his name had figured in an alleged PPE kit scam during the Covid-19 lockdown.

His elevation has led to different inferences being drawn. Some party insiders see it as the repositioning of the camp loyal to former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal. Bindal is close to Dhumal's son and union minister Anurag Thakur. Many see his elevation as a growing intervention of Anurag in state politics.

At the same time observers also point towards Bindal holding on to the rope offered by Nadda who is seen as another pole within the BJP in the state. Questions are being raised whether Jai Ram will continue to get the backing of the party high command like he has been getting in the past.

The BJP has also drawn flak over the recent alumni meet organised by the Himachal Pradesh University (HPU) which many people have termed as an attempt to give a 'political colour even to the alumni association'. The University authorities have been left red faced when questioned by many on the event that was organised on Sunday.

Even Nadda's choice as the chief guest has not gone down well with many as he is neither a sitting minister nor does he hold any constitutional post. He is just a president of a political party.

Meanwhile, the Congress too seems to be sailing in the same boat. The joke doing the rounds is that the Congress itself is the biggest factor working in favour of the BJP ahead of the elections.

To begin with the grand old party is drawing flak for bypassing Himachal Pradesh in the route announced for the forthcoming Bharat Jodo Yatra. The question doing the rounds is, "how can you bypass a state that goes to polls in the next couple of months? Why can't you at least touch the areas adjoining Pathankot?"

The BJP then tweeted its counter question, "does the Congress not consider Himachal to be a part of this country?" It has accused the Congress of doing politics of divisiveness and has underlined that the 'patriotic' people will never accept the Congress party.

However, a Congress leader told The Citizen that the party intends to keep its poll campaign focussed entirely at regional and local levels. "The Yatra entering Himachal would mean raking up national issues and attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi which is something that needs to be avoided at this point of time," said a party insider.

A narrative is being spun around senior party leader Anand Sharma's recent refusal to head the steering committee for Himachal polls. His decision is being projected as a big setback for the Congress. But party insiders have been dismissing this narrative on the grounds that Anand Sharma hardly has any ground connection with the electorate in Himachal and his decision is more to do with the party high command.

Observers say that the over ambition of the leaders and too many contenders eyeing the chief ministerial post might as well sink the Congress' ship. Party insiders point out, "There is no doubt that the unity in the Congress is forced by circumstances. The leadership knows that the party can be revived if it wins in Himachal. If it loses, the results are going to be disastrous."

Yet the scenario continues to be that of many a slip between the cup and the lip for the party. Observers say that the party is in no position to afford infighting and the absence of a strong leader like Virbhadra Singh is being felt. Those at the helm at this point of time are minions as compared to him.

Lots of drama is expected when it comes to the distribution of the tickets. The turncoats joining the rival parties are also not going to have it easy this time. They are not likely to get tickets in the face of resistance from those with clout who are already in the party fold.

The outcome of Himachal polls is surely going to have an impact on the national politics as the country moves towards the 2024 Parliamentary polls.