Himachal Pradesh Assembly Election 2022: Double Engine Govt Vs Anti-Incumbency Trend

Himachal Pradesh Assembly Election 2022 - Sakshi Post

In the electoral history of Himachal Pradesh, after its statehood in 1971, there is a trend of anti-incumbency in each assembly election. Himachal Pradesh once again is on the threshold of state assembly elections which have been fixed by the election commission on 12 November 2022, and its result will be declared on 8 December 2022. 

During this election, people are facing the same question that- will the anti-incumbency trend affect the people’s opinion or not? On the other hand, BJP is arguing that this time ‘double engine’ government will repeat and there will be not a change in government but a change in the trend or tradition.

BJP is strengthening its argument by quoting the example of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand assembly elections where the trend of anti-incumbency has already been broken by BJP during February-March 2022 assembly elections whereas Congress is very much confident because of bye-election result in the state in 2021 when all the three assembly seats and one parliamentary seat were won by Congress party. 

Out of these seats, the parliamentary seat was from the home district of Jai Ram Thakur, the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. No doubt, this victory was also influenced by the sympathy vote in favour of Congress party because of the demise of Virbhadra Singh on July 8, 2021, a popular Congress leader who also remained six times chief minister, nine- time MLA, four times MP, three times union minister and four times state party chief in Himachal Pradesh.

Election without Veteran-Virbhadra and Dhumal

This election is also important because both political parties in the state are facing this election without their veteran. Congress lost its popular leader last year when he died and the BJP has not given ticket to Prem Kumar Dhumal in this election. The Congress in Himachal Pradesh may have anti-incumbency winds in its sail, but it’s still feeling the absence of a towering local leader to helm its ship to harbour. Undoubtedly, Congress will try to encash sympathy vote during this election too which can be seen in their hoardings in which Virbhadra Singh is still shown as a main face and even his wife Pratibha Singh has become the president of state Congress Party and is also playing important role in campaigning. She also won the bye parliamentary election from the Mandi seat last year. 

Therefore, in the absence of Virbhadra Singh, many Congress leaders are in the race for chief ministerial candidate in the state which can create problems for the Congress party. Four main contenders include sitting MP- Pratibha Singh, Leader of Opposition in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly- Mukesh Agnihotri, the party’s campaign committee in charge- Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and a senior leader Kaul Singh Thakur. Therefore, diplomatically, Congress has not declared its chief ministerial candidate before the election because it may open a can of worms for the outfit.

BJP is also contesting this election without the name of Prem Kumar Dhumal who remained two times chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. BJP has already declared its chief ministerial face to incumbent chief minister Jai Ram Thakur this time. But the opposition is blaming Jai Ram Thakur that he is just a rubber stamp which has always been used by the central government as per their choice. His policies and decisions remained very fluctuating during his chief minister-ship. Bureaucracy dominated his maximum decisions. Therefore, for Jai Ram Thakur, this election is also a challenge.

Main Factors Favouring Congress:

During the election campaign, leaders of the Congress party highlighted ‘unemployment’ as an important issue. Youth voters are unhappy with the government because of less job opportunities. Inflation is also a big factor which is grabbed by Congress for their election benefits by blaming that instead of a ‘double engine’ government, it is a ‘trouble engine’ government. 

Congress is also highlighting the ‘police constable paper leak issue in which question papers were sold before the exam by some people and when this issue was highlighted by media then the chief minister had to cancel the exam and it was conducted again later on. Corruption is also a major poll plank for Congress. 

Rajeev Bindal, BJP’s state president had to resign following the scam in the health department i.e. PPE kits scam was exposed by the media in 2020, and the issue was highlighted by Congress during this election. The Old Pension Scheme (OPS) is also becoming a major factor during this election and the Congress has announced the restoration of OPS after the formation of government. 

On the OPS issue, BJP is still quiet and arguing that without the help of the central government it is not possible.Another attack is on the leadership of chief minister Jai Ram Thakur. Congress is blaming him that even he failed to bring development in his home district, Mandi and instead confined himself to Seraj, his constituency. Further, many times he proved to be indecisive- a chief minister with no real control over the bureaucracy. 

Another factor regarding the demand of establishment of ‘Sawaran Ayog’ may also help Congress this time. Rumit Singh Thakur and his supporters were demanding for a ‘Sawaran Ayog’ and when they were not satisfied from the government then they formed a new political party in the state named ‘’Rashtriya Devbhumi Party’ which is not so much popular during this election but it will dent the BJP instead of Congress.

Main Factors Favouring BJP:

The main factor favouring BJP is its national level’s leadership especially ‘Modi factor’.Under the leadership of Narender Modi, BJP is winning its maximum state assembly elections after 2014 and in Himachal Pradesh they are also hoping the same this time. 

JP Nadda, BJP’s national president, is basically from Himachal Pradesh can also help the poll in favour of BJP. Naraender Modi, JP Nadda, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhamietc. are in the list of star campaigners and they are enthusiastically addressing various election rallies in Himachal Pradesh.

During their campaigning, most of the leaders are showing the achievement of BJP government at the center level as well as at the state level. They are giving the argument that if there will be a ‘double engine’ government only then more development is possible in the state. Some big projects given to Himachal Pradesh during the last five years are such as- establishment of ‘AIIMS’ in Bilaspur district, ‘Bulk Drug Pharma Park’ in Una district, Medical Device Park in Nalagarh (Solan district), ‘Vande Bharat Train’ (Between Una to Delhi) etc. 

State based achievements are like reduction of age of ‘old age pension’ from 80 to 60 years, ‘Him Care Yojana’ in which 5 lakh health care is given to people, ‘Sahara Yojana’ in which disable persons are having Rs 3000 pension, ‘Shagun Yojana’ in which girls of BPL families are getting Rs 31000 money from state government at the time of marriage, ‘Ujjawala Yojana’ etc. 

During the election campaign, the BJP leaders are also attracting the people by showing the central government’s achievements like revocation of Article 370, ‘PM Kisan Yojana’, Ram Mandir is being built in Ayodhya, surgical strike etc.

Congress Vs BJP: Rebel Impact

The rebels may undoubtedly skew the election mathematics in Himachal Pradesh in this election.After the distribution of tickets, the rebel factor is wearing both the incumbent BJP and the opposition Congress down, and top leaders from both parties are working extra hard to lessen the impact of unhappiness of rebel leaders.

About a dozen rebels will haunt the Congress candidates. A constituency wise list of Congress Rebels is as following- Theog (Vijay Pal Khachi and Indu Verma against official candidate Kuldeep Singh Rathore), Chopal (Subhash Chand Manglate), Arki (Rajinder Thakur), Hamirpur (Ashish Sharma), Pachhad (Ganguram Musafir), Joginder Nagar (Sanjeev Bhandari), Jaswan Pragpur (Mukesh Thakur), Chintpurni (Kuldeep Kumar),Sulah (Jagjiwan Pal), Anni (Paras Ram), Chamba (Indira Kapoor) constituencies etc. The BJPis equally troubled by rebels in Nachan (Gian Chand), Mandi Sader (Praveen Kumar Sharma), Indora (Manohar Dhiman), Sundernagar (Abhishek Thakur),Anni (Kishori Lal), Rohru (Rajinder Dhirta), Kinnaur (Tejwant Singh), Fatepur (Kripal Parmar), Nalagarh (K.L. Thakur), Kullu (Ram Singh), Dehra (Hoshyar Singh), Banjar (Hiteshwar Singh), Chamba, Dharmshala (Vipin Nahriya), Jhanduta (Raj Kumar Kaundal), Badsar (Sanjeev Kumar), Bilaspur (Subhash Sharma) etc. 

In comparison to Congress, BJP is facing more rebels in this election. It will be interesting to see about the loss and benefit of these rebels for and against each other.

The Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) aspirations to reap electoral benefits in Himachal Pradesh have been sparked by this year's significant victory in the Punjab assembly elections. However, the party's hopes of climbing the mountain and becoming a reliable rival to the BJP and Congress appear to have crumbled well before its campaign. Undoubtedly, their candidates are contesting elections from each constituency but don't seem to be winning a single seat. Therefore, in this election, there is a neck to neck fight between Congress and BJP.

The article is authored by Dr Sunil Kumar, Lecturer Political Science, DPS, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, He is also associated with Peoples Pulse research organization in Hyderabad.

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