Himachal Pradesh is known for witnessing high voter turnout in Assembly elections. The polling percentage in the state has been over 70 per cent right from 2002 Assembly elections.
However, the polling percentage of 2017 Assembly elections has broken all previous records. According to the Election Commission, a record over 74 per cent voters exercised their franchise in November 9 elections and the figure is expected to go up further. This is the highest voter turnout in last four decades. In 2012 Assembly elections, the state had recorded 73.5% voter turnout.
In 2017, the same Virbhadra Singh is once again the chief minister of the state. He is now 83 years old and is serving the state as the chief minister for sixth time. The Congress has once again made him the party’s face in the November 9 Assembly elections and the “Raja Sahib”, as he is popularly referred to as in the state, is seeking the mandate for his seventh-term as the chief minister.
While the Congress under the leadership of Virbhadra Singh is trying its best to achieve its “Mission Repeat”, the BJP is working overtime for its “Mission 50-plus” and the party has declared two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal as its face in the electoral battle field.
In 2012 elections, the Congress had won 36 out of 68 seats in Himachal Pradesh Assembly and the party had secured 42.81% of vote share. The BJP, on the other hand, had won 26 seats with a vote share of 38.4%.
In politics, the thumb rule is that massive voter turnout in an Assembly election reflects strong anti-incumbency sentiments. Though there are several examples that defy this line of reasoning but Himachal Pradesh, with its history of changing governments every five years except in 1985, has always validated this thumb rule of politics.
Will the people of Himachal Pradesh continue with this tradition in 2017 Assembly elections as well?
The political history of Himachal Pradesh suggests that the state has never voted the ruling party back to power in quick succession right from the time it attained full statehood on 25 January 1971, except in 1985 when the Congress under the then chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s leadership retained power in the hilly state.
Interestingly, the party had initially decided against projecting any chief ministerial candidate in view of union minister JP Nadda also throwing his hat in the ring for the CM post. The party strategists found it safe to rely on the popularity of its charismatic prime minister in the Assembly elections. They felt confident of “Modi wave” succeeding the same way in Himacahal Pradesh elections as it worked in many state elections after Narendra Modi took over as the prime minister of the country.
However, the party changed its strategy after it reportedly received the feedback that in the absence of a chief ministerial candidate, the dominant Rajput community, which constitutes a massive 38% of the state population, may side with Virbhadra Singh, who belongs to the community. It was this ground report that set alarm bells ringing in the BJP headquarters in New Delhi which forced Amit Shah to declare Dhumal as the party’s CM candidate.
It’s true that the the BJP won 9 out of 13 states that went to Assembly polls since May 2014 when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India. Can the BJP continue with its winning streak in Himachal as well now that the party has a strong regional leader also teaming up with PM Modi as the joint face of the party?
In the election campaign, the BJP made corruption a big issue. The party targeted Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh over the ongoing probe by CBI and ED against him in money laundering and Disproportionate Assets (DA) cases. The Congress, on the other hand, attacked BJP over “Demonetisation” and “poorly-implemented” GST.
Most of the opinion polls have predicted a landslide victory for the BJP in these elections. However, what is significant is that all these opinion polls have predicted around 7-8% lead for the BJP over Congress in these elections. If these predictions are true then the BJP stands a good chance of making a comeback to power in the state, in line with the tradition which the state has set.
Now that the people of Himachal Pradesh have pressed the EVM buttons to decide who will form the next government in the state, all eyes would be on December 18 when the votes will be counted.