Himachal poll results will decide fate of BJP’s Thakur, Congress’ Agnihotri & Sukhu

As most exit poll surveys have predicted a tight contest between the incumbent BJP and the opposition Congress, with the former holding slight edge, the Thursday Assembly results in Himachal Pradesh will decide the fate of many senior leaders of both the parties.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is in the fray for the first time in the Assembly polls, has been missing from the state with its leaders focusing on strengthening its vote bank in Gujarat.

Despite AAP presence, the political scenario in the state seems so far largely bipolar — a tug-of-war between the two conventional archrivals — the Congress and the saffron party.

Sensing a neck-and-neck contest between the BJP and the Congress, rebels, who had broken ties with the mainstream parties, have started holding ‘in-door’ parleys with a belief that in politics there is no permanent enemy or friend.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main Opposition Congress have also begun an exercise to keep its numbers in ‘order’ in case of hung House.

Insiders told IANS that leaders of both parties were trying to sink their differences with the party rebels, whose numbers are nearly 20, to improve the party’s prospects.

The fear of exodus of lawmakers from the Congress is high.

The result will decide the fate of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, 57, who is in the fray from his stronghold Seraj from where he has won five consecutive elections — 1998, 2003, 2007, 2012 and 2017.

With elections contested under his leadership, BJP chief J.P. Nadda has announced that if the party wins, Thakur will be the chief minister.

Thakur’s outgoing Cabinet colleague Suresh Bhardwaj, 70, is in fray from his new battleground Kasumpti, adjoining his stronghold Shimla (Urban).

He’s a four-time legislator and facing the toughest battle of his career after his constituency was shifted from Shimla (Urban) to Kasumpti at the last minute.

Virender Kanwar, another BJP leader, is in fray from stronghold Kutlehar in Una district. He is contesting for the fifth time. He has never lost an election from Kutlehar.

The other prominent BJP faces are Ramlal Markandey from Lahaul-Spiti (Scheduled Tribe reserved seat); Govind Singh Thakur from Manali; Anil Sharma from Mandi; former state chief Satpal Singh Satti from Una; former health minister Rajeev Bindal from Nahan; and outgoing Health Minister Rajiv Saizal from Kasauli (Scheduled Caste reserved seat).

The prominent Congress leaders who are trying their luck are former health minister Kaul Singh Thakur, 76, from Darang in Mandi district; journalist-turned-politician Mukesh Agnihotri, 60, from Haroli, the seat he represented thrice — 2007, 2012 and 2017 and is seen as the prospective Chief Minister; former state party chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, 58, from Nadaun, the seat he represented thrice in Hamirpur district; former urban development minister Sudhir Sharma from Dharamsala; Asha Kumari from Dalhousie, which she has represented six times — 1985, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2017; ARajinder Singh Rana from Sujanpur; and Col. Dhani Ram Shandil, 82, from Solan.

Political observers told IANS the ruling BJP has managed an edge over its seemingly somnolent rival Congress by holding a statewide campaign with back-to-back public meetings by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party’s national leadership comprising Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, J.P. Nadda and Anurag Thakur.

The Congress, however, largely banked on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is currently staying in her cottage on the suburbs of Shimla to keep close tabs on political state developments.

Chief Minister Thakur led his campaign with the slogan ‘rivaj badlega’ (electoral traditions will change) as the BJP governments have repeated in the recent Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana polls.

This small hill state has not seen any incumbent party returning to power since 1985. Since then both archrivals — the Congress and the BJP — ruled the state alternatively in eight terms.

However, most exit poll surveys have predicted a tight contest between the incumbent BJP and the opposition Congress, with the former holding slight edge.

They predicted the maximum the BJP could get in the state is 40, just six seats more than the half-way mark of 34 in the 68-member House.

The saffron party had won 44 of the 68 Assembly seats in 2017 with a vote share of 48.8 per cent, up from 38.47 per cent in 2012.

Its rival the Congress won 21 seats with a vote share of 41.7 per cent in 2017, down from 43 per cent in 2012.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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