Himachal Pradesh

On a high

Print edition : June 07, 2019

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur (centre) with (from left) Kishan Kapoor, Anurag Thakur, Ram Saroop Sharma and Suresh Kashyap, the newly elected MPs, in New Delhi on May 25. Photo: PTI

The BJP repeats its 2014 performance in Himachal Pradesh, winning all the four parliamentary seats but with bigger margins.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained all the four parliamentary seats of Himachal Pradesh in a repeat of its 2014 peformance but with a substantial increase in its vote share from 53 per cent to 69.11 per cent. The Congress drew a blank and saw its vote share plummet to 27 per cent from 41 per cent. Not only has the BJP won with increased margins, but the impact of its nationalist rhetoric has greatly shrunk the space for the opposition in the State’s polity.

In the 2017 Assembly election, the BJP secured a comfortable majority with 44 of the State’s 68 seats and a 48 per cent vote share. The Congress won 21 seats with a 41 per cent vote share.

The contests were virtually bipolar in the constituencies of Kangra, Hamirpur and Shimla, but in Mandi the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had fielded a candidate. The high turnout of 72.25 per cent was not unusual in the State, which has a high literacy rate.

The Congress rout was not unexpected. The party suffered from rampant factionalism and the rift between former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and former State president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu was was all too well known. In January, senior Congress leader Kuldeep Singh Rathore replaced Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu as party chief. Three-time MP and former Union Telecom Minster Sukh Ram also returned to the Congress before the election. But the changes did not help.

The BJP handled its own share of infighting by changing its candidates in Kangra and Shimla. In Kangra, it replaced party strongman and former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar with Dharamsala MLA and Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Minister Kishan Kapoor. Kapoor defeated Pawan Kajal of the Congress by over four lakh votes. Pawan Kajal was in the BJP until recently and joined the Congress after being denied the party ticket.

Shimla, the only reserved seat in a State with a nearly 25 per cent Dalit population, saw a bipolar contest between the BJP MLA from Pacchad, Suresh Kashyap, and the Congress veteran Dhani Ram Shandil. Shandil had a brief dalliance with the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC), a breakaway group floated by Sukh Ram in 1999. Shandil was elected MP in 1999 and 2004. The HVC merged with the parent party in 2004. Shandil lost to Suresh Kashyap by a margin of 3.2 lakh votes.

In Hamirpur, a seat that the BJP has retained since 1999, Anurag Thakur, sitting MP and son of former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, was contesting for the fourth time. Pitched against the veteran Congress leader Ram Lal Thakur, he won by 3.8 lakh votes.

In Mandi, previously considered a stronghold of Sukh Ram, the Congress fielded his grandson Aashray Sharma against the sitting MP, Ram Swaroop Sharma. Interestingly, Aashray Sharma’s father, Anil Sharma, had joined the BJP and was also part of the BJP Ministry headed by Jai Ram Thakur. The CPI(M) candidate, Daleep Singh Kaith, occupied the third position. Aashray Sharma’s defeat is seen as a sign of the waning influence of Sukh Ram and the Congress. The Congress won Mandi in 2009 though it lost in the other three seats. But it lost Mandi in 2014, despite fielding Pratibha Singh, wife of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.

In the 2017 Assembly election, the BJP won 14 of the 17 segments in the Mandi parliamentary constituency. Winning Mandi was a prestige issue for the BJP as Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur is an MLA from the Seraj Assembly segment in the constituency. It was for good reason that the Prime Minister held a rally here in support of the BJP nominee Ram Swaroop Sharma.