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‘Cleverly’ Hills To Pick its Star Soon: Mahila with BJP, Karamchari with Cong? Himachal Ground Report

By: Aman Sharma & Pallavi Ghosh

Edited By: Manjiri Joshi

News18.com

Last Updated: November 08, 2022, 08:29 IST

Shimla, India

On every BJP hoarding in the state, the Prime Minister in a Himachali topi appealing for votes is prominent. (News18)

On every BJP hoarding in the state, the Prime Minister in a Himachali topi appealing for votes is prominent. (News18)

Anti-incumbency has claimed every government in the state so far. The Congress is riding on its promise of bringing back the OPS and giving Rs 1,500 per month as aid to women, while the BJP is banking on the support of women voters and PM Modi

There is some chill in the air in Himachal Pradesh, but the political temperature is soaring ahead of the polling on Saturday, in what appears to be a “super-tight” contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

The Congress is riding on its promise of bringing back the ‘Old Pension Scheme’ (OPS) and giving Rs 1,500 per month as aid to women as soon as it comes to power. The BJP is banking on the support of women voters and the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cut its losses in the state, where anti-incumbency has claimed every government so far. On every BJP hoarding in the state, the Prime Minister in a Himachali topi appealing for votes is prominent, given he remains extremely popular here.

But things seem awry at the state level.

In a small assembly of 69 seats, as many as 20 rebels of the BJP are in the fray, pointing to divisions in the top BJP state leadership.

NEWS18 TRAVELS TO SHIMLA

Driving to Shimla, News18 met a group of retired government officials playing a game of cards in Kandaghat near the local Congress and BJP offices. They take a break to say it is the “Congress jiska is baar mahaul hai (which is in vogue)”. “In Himachal, it is government servants and retired pensioners who change the government each time. This time, they are voting for the Congress,” claims Ashok Sehgal, who retired from a government job in 2016. Sehgal claims he has to take Rs 16 lakh from the state government, but the money is stuck due to an “error” and he has no hope left in CM Jai Ram Thakur.

To counter the Congress’s promise on implementing the OPS, the BJP has promised a committee to look into the issue. But retired government official Hari Singh Verma is scathing in his attack. “The BJP has not done any work, our pension was also stopped. We went to court, but in vain. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has promised old pension scheme…we are in favour of that. There is so much inflation, a gas cylinder is for Rs 1,100. What will a poor man do?” Verma says. He says Himachal is devbhoomi and people are bhole-bhale (naïve), but inflation is hurting them now.

The Congress and BJP posters. (News18)

Balwant Singh Thakur, a farmer, says the farming community is also in favour of the Congress. The BJP has promised Rs 3,000 a year from the state fund to farmers, apart from PM Kisan Nidhi. “But everyone has not even got the PM Kisan Nidhi so far,” Thakur says.

Near Shimla, at the stream of shops selling the famous Himachali apples, shopkeepers and apple-farmers also do not seem too happy with the BJP, although the party has promised to cap the goods and services tax (GST) on apple packaging at 12% now, after protests from the apple-growers. However, the Congress promise of fixing a minimum support price (MSP) for apples and barring any private party from buying below the MSP is appealing to the apple-growers.

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“We need good price for our apples. The government should not ignore our cause,” Harpal Malik tells us, after selling us a box of Himachali apples at Rs 90 a kg.

Some say they trust both the parties. (News18)

WOMEN STILL TRUST BJP

The women in Himachal Pradesh, although troubled by inflation, do not seem to be giving up on the BJP. A couple of women buying vegetables in Solan told News18 that the BJP has done a lot for women. “We don’t believe this promise of putting money into our bank account (Rs 1,500 promise for women by the Congress). Parties keep giving fake promises. Our children want government jobs as per qualification. There are no pensions anymore. The BJP should correct this,” the women say.

The BJP has also promised scooties and a host of other benefits for women as part of a ‘11-point Stree Shakti’ promises to retain women in their fold, after they brought the BJP to power here in 2017.

The BJP aims to woo women voters. (News18)

At Shimla’s Mall road, two first-time voters, Aarti and Kavita, say girls need jobs and it is crucial the BJP government delivers on it in its next term. “Youngsters need jobs. Parties should deliver on their commitment. Girls need more education opportunities. My mother is impressed with promises like free scooties, etc. Other parties are promising Rs 1,500 to us per month, but in the past, promises were not fulfilled,” Aarti says.

Kavita is quick to add what women desire in Himachal are government jobs. Some other women say parties should increase women candidates as they best know the problems of women.

With a high literacy rate of women in Himachal Pradesh, both parties know it is not easy to fool them with tall promises that ultimately cannot be delivered. The BJP is raising the decibel levels on the issue that the Congress promise of Rs 1,500 per month is not practical or feasible, although the Congress feels that Priyanka Gandhi has emerged popular among women and has been a big draw in the campaign. “We believe the women will back us. Our focus is on them,” a top BJP leader working closely on Himachal Pradesh told News 18.

The Congress’s OPS rollback promise may work in its favour, feel locals. (News18)

INTERNAL TUSSLES ON CM FACE

In this state, the Chief Ministerial identity has always been a feature, with Virbhadra Singh of the Congress and Prem Kumar Dhumal from the BJP being CMs for two decades between 1998 and 2017. Singh passed away and Dhumal did not contest this time after his shock loss in the 2017 assembly elections after he changed his seat from his traditional Hamirpur to Sujanpur, that led to Jai Ram Thakur becoming the BJP’s CM. The Congress now points to many BJP rebels contesting in the Hamirpur area, alluding to a rivalry inside the BJP state ranks at the top level. The BJP says it is contesting the elections with Jai Ram Thakur as a face.

Things are, however, not so smooth in the Congress camp, too, on the leadership question. While every Congress poster in the state features a photograph of the late Virbhadra Singh, questions are abound if the party will choose his wife and Congress MP and party’s state chief Pratibha Singh as the CM if the Congress wins.

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Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, the election campaign committee of the party, has also thrown his hat in the ring given his closeness to Priyanka Gandhi, who has emerged as the main campaigner of the party in Himachal Pradesh. “Not going with a clear CM face will cost the Congress. The Himachal voter always votes for a face and local candidate,” a BJP leader said.

ALSO READ | Himachal Home Game: BJP’s Fight against Anti-Incumbency Vs Congress’s Battle for Survival

Soaking in the sun on a bench on Shimla’s Mall road, an aged Ishwar Dutt Sharma, perhaps, best sums up the Himachal battle. “See, OPS is a big issue, also the issue of employment. The condition of roads in Shimla is not good. Whichever party implements the OPS will benefit. The BJP now says they will make a committee, it is good if they do. We trust both parties (the Congress and BJP). Let’s see,” Sharma says.

Like Sharma, many Himachalis are keeping the suspense on for November 12.

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first published:November 08, 2022, 07:30 IST
last updated:November 08, 2022, 08:29 IST
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