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Posted at: May 12, 2019, 7:14 AM; last updated: May 12, 2019, 7:14 AM (IST)

Will BJP hit another four?

The party won all four seats in 2014 but an encore won’t be easy

Pratibha Chauhan in Shimla

The vitriolic high-decibel campaign has generated much heat in Himachal Pradesh, what with the contest between the BJP and the Congress getting shriller and murkier with each passing day. As the polling date draws closer, the political slugfest is touching new lows with leaders resorting to unsavoury remarks, leaving the voters in shock. Himachal’s political culture and its “netas” were always known for their sobriety and dignified campaigns, but this election has changed all that. 

The BJP had created history by winning all four Lok Sabha seats in the state for the first time in the 2014 Parliamentary polls, and is obviously keen to repeat its performance. Cornered, the Congress wants to wrest back all seats. With no other political party posing a serious challenge on any seat, the BJP and the Congress are locked in a direct fight. 

More national, less local

National issues have been more dominant than the local ones in the electioneering. Like elsewhere, the BJP is banking heavily on Modi's charisma; the Congress, on the other hand, is seeking votes on unemployment, demonetisation, GST, price rise, and the promises not kept by the BJP.

Equipped with resources, proper election planning and a galvanised and enthused party cadre, the saffron party seems way ahead of its rival. It has repeated two of its sitting three-time MPs in Anurag Thakur from Hamirpur and Ram Swaroop Sharma from Mandi. It replaced former CM Shanta Kumar from Kangra after the latter chose to bid adieu to electoral politics, and Virender Kashyap from the Shimla Parliamentary seat (reserved) following some adverse feedback.

While Thakur is aiming for a successive fourth win, he does face some anti-incumbency. Following the defeat of his father and former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal in the 2017 Assembly polls from Sujanpur, the fight has become tougher for him. 

Congress not in best of shape

The Congress, faced with severe resource and fund crunch, is finding it hard to match up to BJP's propaganda machinery. To make matters worse, many of its leaders are yet to sink their differences and put up a united front against the BJP.  The removal of its state party president, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, couldn't have come at a more inopportune time; the new party chief, Kuldeep Rathore, is still trying to find his feet and is working overtime to keep all leaders, including Virbhadra Singh, Sukhu and Anand Sharma, in good humour. The Congress also faced severe criticism and embarrassment on account of its tallest leaders, including Virbhadra, Mukesh Agnihotri and Sukhu, shying away from contesting the polls. But with the BJP struggling to sustain the climax it hit quite early, the Congress campaign is picking up gradually.

Aya Ram, Gaya Ram politics  

This election season, the state saw some senior leaders changing parties, former telecom minister Sukh Ram being the most prominent among them. To launch the political career of his grandson Ashray Sharma (31), the veteran leader sacrificed the ministry of his son, Anil Sharma, part of the BJP government. As Sukh Ram and his grandson chose to return to the Congress fold after being denied the BJP Lok Sabha ticket from Mandi, Anil had to resign from the cabinet as he refused to campaign against his own son. Being a BJP MLA, Anil cannot campaign for his son but Sukh Ram is making an emotional appeal to the voters.

Another prominent leader who switched sides is Suresh Chandel, a three-time BJP MP from Hamirpur.  He had also been the state party president but was pushed into political oblivion after his name cropped up in the “cash for query” scam that rocked Parliament. Other leaders like six-time Congress MLA from Rampur (Shimla), Singhi Ram, joined the BJP.

A  total of 45 candidates are in the fray. The lone woman candidate is Nisha Katoch (37) of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha. She’s contesting from Kangra. Unlike in the past when royalty like Virbhadra, his wife Pratibha or Maheshwar Singh would add colour to the polls, this time there's no scion of an erstwhile state in the fray.


Tough fight in Mandi

The Mandi Lok Sabha seat is witnessing the most interesting contest, what with the personal prestige of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and veteran Congress leader Sukh Ram at stake. The BJP had won nine out of the 10 Assembly segments in Mandi district in 2017, but Sukh Ram's entry has made the contest intriguing. The BJP’s Ram Swaroop faces anti-incumbency but the onus will be on the CM to ensure his victory. With Congress candidate Ashray Sharma, the grandson of Sukh Ram, putting up a spirited fight, the contest for this prestigious seat is becoming interesting. However, party hopping by Sukh Ram and his family has not gone down well with the Congress cadre and that could hurt the chances of the young and enthusiastic Sharma.

Spewing venom 

State BJP president Satpal Singh Satti took the lead in escalating the political temperatures in the state with his derogatory and abusive utterances against Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, in Nalagarh and Una. The Election Commission of India (ECI) reprimanded him, and barred him from campaigning for 48 hours. Despite the ECI issuing a warning to Satti to not repeat such behaviour, the BJP chief apparently paid little heed and had to be pulled up a third time.

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