Even as Narendra Modi powered the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in Gujarat, the party has been humbled in Himachal Pradesh by the Congress.
As against winning 41 seats out of the total 68 seats in 2007, the BJP has been reduced to just 24 seats this time around. On the other hand, the Congress has improved its tally to 36 seats from 23. Others have won the remaining seats.
While anti-incumbency can be considered as one of the obvious reasons behind the debacle, Prem Kumar Dhumal’s track record as CM was not as dismal as reflected in the numbers.
The results need to be also looked through the prism of the poor show of the Congress-led UPA government on the issue of price rise and corruption. Pollsters expected the LPG cap to hurt the party’s chances, but the results prove it otherwise.
The farmers of Himachal Pradesh grow million tonnes of vegetables and fruits which are of high demand especially in north India. As the farmers of the hill state grow very costly and delicate fruits like almond, peach, pear, plum, apple, apricot and cherry they need sufficient number of cold storage facilities, but the state lags far behind in cold chain facilities. As BJP was opposing FDI in retail, which promises to bring in such facilities, this seems to have added to its woes.
Clearly, there is more to the Himachal story and that ‘something more’ appears to be the fight within and the rebel factor seems to have cost the BJP dearly.
Also, the BJP appears to have worked on the wrong campaign strategy as it had tried to corner the Congress by highlighting national issues at the expense of ignoring local ones which affect the day-to-day life of the people of the hilly state. Top BJP leaders like LK Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj chose to talk about the 2G scam, coal allocation issue and Central government’s reform policies during the rallies.
The Congress, on the other hand, played a masterstroke by dispatching Virbhadra Singh to lead the charge in Himachal Pradesh Assembly Elections. The senior leader, despite being embroiled in corruption accusations, once again proved that he is the most bankable and popular leader in the hilly state. In fact, post-poll surveys had shown him as more popular than Dhumal as the next chief minister of the state.
The Congress was smart also enough to grab the opportunity and focus on the deficiencies of the BJP government’s policies.
Also, the Congress was successful in questioning the BJP’s track record on corruption. Annandale row linked to the prime chunk of open land surrounded by thick forests near Shimla - under the Indian Army`s control since the World War II – which was chosen by Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association headed by Dhumal`s son and Hamirpur MP Anurag Thakur as the site for constructing a multipurpose stadium - attracted massive outrage against the state government.
Clearly, notwithstanding the victory in Gujarat, the BJP has much to introspect – the party had lost another hill state Uttarakhand to Congress earlier this year. The next big test will come in 2013 when party-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh go to polls.
If the BJP has to have any realistic chance of winning the war for Delhi in 2014, it will have to start winning the smaller battles.