Leadership, Parties And Ensuing State Assembly Elections in Himachal Pradesh

Leadership, Parties and the Ensuing State Assembly Elections in Himachal Pradesh - Sakshi Post

By Rohit Kumar

Elections to many state assemblies have been concluded recently and the BJP once again shocked everyone, especially considering its performance in Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand states’ assemblies’ elections. It emerged not only victorious but these indicate the ongoing political/ideological juggernaut of the BJP in Indian political arena since 2014. The Congress and many other regional parties opted and tried out many electoral strategies but they still failed in cashing the rising concerns about increasing fuel and prices of the commodities. The Congress has also resolved to change its leadership guard in case of Punjab but it did not work and lost terribly against the Aam Aadmi Party. Whereas the BJP’s confidence is high due to its electoral hegemony nationally, the apprehensions in terms of party factions and leadership for the Congress, are more scathing now in the state assembly’s elections in Himachal Pradesh in October-November. The BJP is running its electoral march successfully, on the national and state level, and the credit solely goes to the national leadership and successful central management of the party.

The Congress seems weak and fragmented in doing the same due to its party-leadership weakness which causes disruptions in the party at the state level. The poor electoral performance of the Congress since 2014, stormed its continuous failures at the state level; and the reinvigoration and restructuration of the party came up as a new challenge for the party. In ensuing assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, though state-level anti-incumbency against the BJP, the Congress seems still weak under the looming crisis of unifying leadership, and the entry of many new factors such as AAP and claims of Himachal Pradesh Rashtriya Morcha which recently got active for the demands of Swarna Aayog for the upper castes of Himachal Pradesh. The Congress has secured all seats in by-elections but the way forward for it is very tough under emerging electoral equations. 

Not So Stable Two-Party Competition

The Congress is looking firm in changing the old guard of the party in many states but it cannot overlook the vitality of leadership charisma and their importance to win elections in particular and state specific cases. In Himachal Pradesh the elections are due in October-November 2022. The state and its electoral dynamics are unique keeping in view the high level politicization and political awareness of the voters with equal importance of party and leadership in winning any elections here. The importance of national factors like national government and its policies also play vital role in state’s electoral competition thanks to the presence and competition only between national parties (the Congress and the BJP) in absence of any state party but now the entry of AAP and claims of Kashtriya Morcha to contest all assembly seats can create multi-polarity of results. 

After the departure of its stalwart leader Virbhadra Singh and under the entries of new political players can cause new problems for the Congress keeping in view the trends that how AAP making dents mainly in Congress’ support base. The political history and electoral trends might have favorable for the Congress but absence of a unifying-commanding-popular leadership presenting the fall in its electoral fortunes. Where stable two party competition was only favorable factor for the Congress now this is also changing the way Kashtriya Morcha became active and decided and contest elections and the way AAP is making inroads as many leaders of the party are joining the party. The trends like anti-incumbency and rotation in government after every five year can have a only positive for the Congress in upcoming elections but not when the party is struggling around the challenge of deciding and projecting a leader or party face which mark importance in winning state assembly elections by keeping in view the electoral history of the state, and in multi-polar contest as it is hurting Congress the most.

The Leadership as Unifying Force

What is more concern able for the Congress is to present a stiff competition for the mighty BJP in terms of good electoral strategies and leadership. The Congress has facing challenge of projecting new leadership due to the aspirations of many old second line stalwarts of the party in Himachal Pradesh. Due to the popular commanding leadership of Virbhadra Singh the Congress remained unified even having the challenge of factions led by Sukhram and Kaul Singh bloc in the past. But the recent departure of Virbhadra Singh has given blow to the emergence of many other aspirants of leadership besides these. There are almost five to six main claimants of leadership in the party at present and risking its electoral fortunes of the party in absence of a commanding party face. The centre is also not looking firm to take any decision just to avoid the intra-party conflicts prior to the election which only seems compulsion but not the strength of party management.   

Where the BJP will go into the elections and contest it on the name of national populist leadership, the Congress is lacking proper electoral strategy from the center and also at state level after Virbhadra Singh’s departure, the only unifying face to avoid factions and fragmentation within the party.

Other then the centrality of party, leadership, high level politicization and awareness of the voters in the state, the policies and performance of ruling party also play part in deciding the government. Here, the voters never give mandate to ruling party to repeat government no matters how well it performed on policy level in five years. But still stakes always remain high to achieve the political power for consecutive term.

The Upcoming Electoral Gamble

In the upcoming elections, where the ongoing pandemic and political environment of the country are two favorable rudiments for the BJP, the similar are hellhole for the Congress to pitch any electorally serving question and concern against the BJP. The hegemonic electoral stride of the BJP, under centralizing-populist-leadership and party-organizational machinery, definitely marking only the electoral success and growth for the BJP in upcoming state assembly elections but on the other the crisis in the Congress at state level looming large which will going to affect its performance in the same.

The return of ruling government for consecutive term is probable if not definite under present conditions and political environment. First time after 1983, the Congress is going to contest assembly elections, projected or not, without any popular face in Himachal Pradesh. The upcoming electoral contest is one among the many which might not appear important for national politics but will mark a distinct importance for the nature and future of electoral competition and which can change longstanding electoral trends and patterns in the state.

The ongoing national political narrative of national-populism from BJP side, and its influence in the state assembly elections after 2014, marked new heights under which the decline of state parties in national elections are obvious but at respective state level posed new analytical concerns in locating the future of state parties, leaving aside the exceptions. The country-wide decline of the Congress and its leadership since 2014; state level fragmentation and factions within the party, are contributing factors to falling electoral fortunes of the party.

The similar in Himachal Pradesh only indicates that what Congress required in improving to present tough electoral competition to the BJP and even to secure political power where electoral trends and patterns are favorable to it but still the necessity is not inventing and fulfilling the required in lack of political vigor in the party.

About the Author

Rohit Kumar is a Ph.D. Research Scholar in the Department of Political Science at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. He is associated with Peoples Pulse, a Hyderabad-based Research Organization on Politics. (peoplespulse.hyd@gmail.com)

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