Himachal Assembly Polls 2022: Regional Factor Takes A Backseat

Himachal Assembly Polls 2022: Regional Factor Takes A Backseat - Sakshi Post

By Rakesh Lohumi

The generational change in the leadership of BJP and Congress, the two main contenders for power in Himachal Pradesh, has pushed the regional factor into the background in the ensuing assembly poll.

It is for the first time that the state is going to polls when Jairam Thakur, a leader from Mandi district, is occupying the seat of chief minister.  The state has seen nine assembly elections from 1977  to 2017 on every time the incumbent  chief minister, irrespective of party in power, came from either from Shimla or Kangra, the two main political regions which played a major role in formation of government. While both the Congress chief ministers, Thakur Ram Lal and Virbhadra Singh, were from Shimla region or the old Himachal, the two BJP chief ministers, Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal, came from the Kangra region or the merged areas.

In the 2017 polls, whenVirbhadra Singh was the chief minister, the BJP had declared Dhumal as its chief ministerial candidate. The BJP won the election but Dhumal lost from his Sujanpur constituency. The high command picked JairamThakur, a next generation leader from the Mandi, the second largest district after Kangra, for the coveted political post. The BJP has gone to polls with Jairam in the saddle, while Congress has not declared its chief ministerial candidate.

Another important change from the past elections is that old guards, Virbhadra Singh and Dhumal, who led their respective parties in the previous five encounters from 1998 to 2017, are out of the poll scene. While Virbhadra Singh died last year, the BJP high command denied ticket to Dhumal.With leaders from Kangra and Shimla no longer dominating the election arena, the regional sentiment has been muted and it is no longer a upper hills versus lower hills battle.

 Regionalism, symbolised by old areas versus merged areas, apple versus orange and upper hills versus lower hills, has played a significant role in electoral politics for decades. The state formed by merging the hill areas of Punjab has been politically divided into upper hills and lower hills. There was no organised opposition in the state till 1966, when merger took place, and the Congress dominated the political scene. The role of opposition was played by Independents, who made it to the Vidhan Sabha in large numbers. 

The political scenario began to change after Himachal became a full-fledged state in 1971. While the Congress remained the dominant player with its strong presence in the higher hills or the old areas, JanSangh, earlier incarnation of the BJP, had significant influence in the lower hills, comprising the newly merged areas.  In the very first assembly election held in 1972, the Jan Sangh won five seats to find a footing as opposition. The Congress bagged 53 seats in the 68-member house securing 53.24 per cent votes.

It took the Janata wave, which swept the country in 1977, to demolish the Congress bastion. The party could win only 9seats, while the Janata Party, set up in haste after declaration of election, bagged 53 seats.  Being the main constituent of the Janata Party, the Jan Sangh gained maximum ground during the 33-month rule of the party. It emerged as the main opposition in the state as BJP in its new avatar after the disintegration of Janata Party 1980. 

The BJP came close to forming government in 1982 polls when it won 29 seats as against 31 bagged by Congress. It consolidated its position in the merged areas, comprising Kangra, Hamirpur and Unadistricts. The party came to be identified with the merged areas and both its chief ministers, Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal came from the lower hills. The political rivalry led to a regional divide with Congress holding sway over the upper hills identified by the Shimla region and it became a tussle between old Himachal and new Himachal.

The generational change in leadership of the two main parties and leaders of Kangra and Shimla no longer in dominant position, the poll scenario has completely changed. Political parties usually fare better in the region from where their chief ministerial candidates come as regional sentiments come into play. The BJP is holding all the 10 seats of Mandi district and as suchJairam Thakur faces a huge challenge of retaining the party’s hold.

 Past trends also indicate that the party, which does well in the state’s largest Kangra district, reaches the winning post. The district has the maximum 15 assembly seats and the party, which bags 10 or more seats, manages to   secure a majority to form the government. In the 2017 assembly elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 11 of the 15 seats and went on to get a comfortable majority by securing 44 seats, 10 more than the halfway mark. In 2012 polls, the Congress won 10 seats and formed the government, while BJP had to contend with only 3 seats.

The BJP faces several hurdles this time and repeating the performance of 2017 will be an uphill task. Strong rebel candidates may queer the pitch for the party in several seats, including Dharamshala, Kangra, Indora, Dehra and Fatehpur. Infighting at the grassroots along with the party’s strategy to bring sitting Congress MLA PawanKajaland Independent from Dehra Hoshiar Singh into its fold were mainly responsible for the rebellion. Kajal got the party ticket from Kangra but disgruntled Kulbhash Chaudhary filed nomination as Independent. In Dehra, the party denied the ticket to Hoshiar Singh, who is now contesting as an Independent.

In Fatehpur , forest minister Rakesh Pathania,who was shifted from Nurpur constituency,  is up against two strong BJP rebels, RajanSushant ,who is contesting as AAP candidate, and  KirpalParmar, a former Rajya Sabha member. Other rebels in the fray are VipinNehria, district president of the BJP ST Morcha, from Dharamsalaand ManoharDhiman, former MLA, from Indora.

On the other hand,the Congressis comparatively less affected by the rebel phenomenon. It may suffer in Sulah constituency due to the presence of its former MLA Jagjivan Pal, who is contesting as Independent after the party gave ticket to Jagdish Singh Sapaiya, a former chairperson of Kangra Central Cooperative Bank.

The Shimla district, which accounts for 8 assembly seats,   has been traditionally a stronghold of Congress. In 2012 polls the party won 6 seats,while BJP bagged the lone Shimla seat. It managed to win four seats in 2017, when it was ousted from power. The BJP emerged victorious in 3 seats but the Congress wrested the Jubbal-Kotkhaiseat,which fell vacant following the death of senior BJP leader  NarinderBragta, in the by-elections held last year.

The BJP has shifted urban development minister from Shimla to Kusumpati and fielded ChetanBragta, son of NarinderBragta, who was denied ticket during by-election on the ground that party was against pursuing dynastic politics. He contested as an Independent but lost to Congress candidate Rohit Thakur, while the official BJP candidate ended up a poor third. The CPM has fielded the sitting legislator Rakesh Singha from Theog and Tikender Panwar, a former Deputy Mayor, from the Shimla seat setting stage for multi-cornered contests. Former Congress MLASubhash Manglait entered the fray as Independent from Chopal seat after the party gave ticket to Rajnish Kimta and InduVerma, wife of former BJP MLA Rakesh Verma, is contesting as Independent from Theog. Kangra, Mandi and Shimla together account for 33 seats and the party, which does well in at least two districts, stands a better chance of securing a majority to form the government.

(Rakesh Lohumi, Political Analyst, He is associated with People's Pulse research organisation, Hyderabad. peoplespulse.hyd@gmail.com)

Also Read: Himachal Polls: Old Pension Scheme A Major Issue In Anti-Incumbency Versus Growth Battle

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