HIMACHAL PRADESH has stuck to its tradition of not giving a second term to the party in power. The Congress has every reason to celebrate. The win is a creditable achievement for a state unit that is prone to infighting among competing factions, and went to the polls minus a chief ministerial face. Also missing was the towering presence of the late Virbhadra Singh. One battle has been won, another is in the offing. Leadership remains an unsettled issue. Various manifestations of hurt political egos could play out in the coming days. At the back of the party’s mind at all times would be to keep the flock together. If the Congress’ central leadership deserves any credit for the Assembly election strategy, it is for keeping a relatively low profile and letting the state rank and file set the campaign narrative and tempo. Choosing the CM and Cabinet members would be the real test.
Sensing the anti-incumbency sentiment, the Bharatiya Janata Party state leadership under Jai Ram Thakur had virtually left it to Prime Minister Modi to work his magic. His popularity and emotional appeal to the voters could be the reasons that the party managed respectable numbers in the 68-member House, as also a substantial vote share for a losing party. Three of the BJP rebels are among the winners. Dissension proved to be a spoiler too.
For all the noise it generated, new entrant Aam Aadmi Party could not open its account. Through its aggressive campaigning and freebie announcements, though, it ensured that the Congress and the BJP were forced to play catch-up or come up one better. It didn’t matter or even become a debating point whether the freebies made economic sense or could possibly be implemented. Negotiating the leadership tangle, staying united and living up to promises are challenging tasks that await the Congress.
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