Shimla: Electioneering for the 68 assembly seats in Himachal ended Thursday evening. It’s now over to the 55 lakh-plus voters who would decide the fate of 412 candidates — 68 each from the BJP and the Congress, 67 from Aam Aadmi Party and 99 independents — on November 12 and counting of votes would take place on December 8.
The electioneering reached its peak during the last week, and right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP national president JP Nadda and several Union ministers to Congress leaders Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Malikarjun Khagre, and Rajv Shukla, besides Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and the CMs of other BJP-ruled states campaigned in the state that saw hundreds of rallies and road across its 12 districts.
A fierce electoral battle is on the cards between the ruling BJP, which is claiming that the tradition of changing the government after every five years will change this time and ‘Mission Repeat’ would be achieved, while the Congress has been saying voters would reject the BJP and oust it from power.
Both the major parties have announced sops to attract voters, though major issues like unemployment and rising prices were pushed to the background. Restoration of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) is a burning issue on which the BJP has not cleared its stand, while the Congress and the AAP have categorically said the OPS would be revived.
Both the BJP and the Congress are facing problem of rebels as 27 of them — 20 from BJP and seven from Congress — are in the fray and could make or mar the prospects of main contenders.The BJP cadres are divided in several seats where old workers have entered the fray against official party candidates after being denied party tickets.
The ruling BJP, which has enormous resources and manpower, is trying to convince the voters that it would easily get a majority in the 68-member House, but the Congress is banking on the anti-incumbency factor and is stressing that there is a strong undercurrent against the ruling BJP.
99 Independents In The Fray, 27 Of Them BJP And Congress Rebels
There are 99 independents in the fray this time, and they are all set to play spoilsport in at least two dozen constituencies.
In 2017, two independents were elected by the voters, and there is a possibility that their count in the House may rise this time.
There was a time in Himachal politics, until 1967 to be precise when the Congress was the only national party in the state, when independents filled the opposition space. In the 1967 elections, when the Himachal Legislative Assembly was a 60-member House, 16 seats had been won by Independents who polled 38.1 per cent of the total votes.
Though their number started sliding in the succeeding years, the independents were still responsible for the formation of Congress government in 1982 when the latter won 31 out of the 68 seats and were four seats short of the majority.
In 1998, the lone independent MLA, Romesh Dhawala, held the balance and played the role of kingmaker. The Congress and the BJP had won 31 and 29 seats, respectively, in that election held in March but one BJP member died before taking oath and their strength reduced to 28. The Himachal Vikas Congress of former Union minister Sukh Ram had won four seats, and elections to three tribal seats were to be held later in June.
The BJP entered a post-poll alliance with the HVS and increased their strength to 32, but the Congress managed the support of the lone independent and formed the government on March 6, with Virbhadra Singh as the CM, though there was a tie. This government, however, collapsed on March 24 and a BJP-HVC government headed by Prem Kumar Dhumal came to power. Later, the BJP and the HVC won elections to the three tribal constituencies and also the bypoll from Nagrota and a stable government was formed as the strength of the coalition increased to 36.
The assembly election of 1990 was the only other poll that saw just one independent getting elected.
Seven independents won in 1972, and six each in the next two polls held in 1977 and 1982. In 1985, two independents won. The number was seven again in 1993, before dropping to one in 1998. The election held in 2003 saw six independents entering the assembly. In 2007, three independents were elected, while five of them won in 2012. The last election (2017) sent two independents to the House.
With 99 of them in the fray, including the 27 rebels, independents are in the focus again this time around.
The performance of independents is to be watched as they will be in a position to make or mar the fate of the BJP and the Congress. How many seats the independents will be able to win, or whether they will win any at all, is difficult to predict but they would definitely secure a large chunk of votes, and their role would be crucial in the case of a hung assembly.
Prakash Chandra Lohumi is a veteran jounalist who has covered Himachal Pradesh for over five decades.