Lok Sabha constituency watch: Congress looks to wrest lost Shimla fortress from BJP - Hindustan Times
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Lok Sabha constituency watch: Congress looks to wrest lost Shimla fortress from BJP

By, Shimla
May 09, 2024 09:56 AM IST

Shimla parliamentary seat has been home ground for three former Congress CMs; party looks to regain the lost ground against sitting BJP MP

The state’s capital, Shimla, which makes for one of the four Lok Sabha constituencies is a pivotal battleground that will see the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lock horns for political supremacy.

The region’s apple-growing belt plays a significant role in shaping not only the state’s economy, but also the political narrative. (HT Photo)
The region’s apple-growing belt plays a significant role in shaping not only the state’s economy, but also the political narrative. (HT Photo)

Having served as the cradle for stalwart leaders like Yashwant Singh Parmar, Thakur Ram Lal, and Virbhadra Singh, all former Congress chief ministers (CM), Shimla has etched its mark on the state’s political canvas.

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This electoral saga will not just be limited to a clash of the two parties’ current brass, but also a reflection of Shimla’s rich political legacy. The parliamentary seat encompasses 17 assembly segments sprawling across Shimla, Solan, and Sirmaur districts, each boasting of a unique socio-political dynamic.

Once a Congress fortress, Shimla witnessed the BJP’s incursion in 1999 when Dhani Ram Shandil secured victory under the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) banner. Subsequently, in 2004, Shandil triumphed again, this time under the Congress flag, showcasing the region’s political fluidity.

BJP’s Virendra Kashyap won the seat in the next two elections in 2009 and 2014, while Suresh Kashyap clinched it in 2019. The latter has been entrusted to win the seat for saffron party again this year.

The region’s apple-growing belt plays a significant role in shaping not only the state’s economy, but also the political narrative. However, amidst the verdant orchards lies a tale of agrarian distress and discontent, with apple growers expressing grievances over market fluctuations and input costs.

As the electoral fervour engulfs Shimla, other issues like sustainability, rural development, and social welfare have also taken centre stage, reflecting the electorate’s aspirations and concerns. With a majority of 13 MLAs from the region’s 17 assembly segments hailing from the Congress fold, the elections also serve as a litmus test for the state government led by CM Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu.

The Congress is putting its best foot forward to reclaim the fortress it lost 15 years ago in the high-stakes electoral tussle, fielding Vinod Sultanpuri, the sitting MLA from Kasauli and son of six-term former Shimla MP Krishan Dutt Sultanpuri, who represented the seat in 1980, 1984, 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998.

He faces a formidable opponent in the form of Suresh Kashyap, who over his five-year term spent almost all his Members of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) funds in the region.

Lok Sabha constituency watch: Congress looks to wrest lost Shimla fortress from BJP
Lok Sabha constituency watch: Congress looks to wrest lost Shimla fortress from BJP

A bite at the apple

The apple-growing regions have long been fertile grounds not only for cultivating fruit but also for nurturing formidable political leaders in Himachal. Over three decades, these orchard-laden landscapes have served as the epicentre of political activity, home to influential figures such as former CMs Virbhadra Singh, Ram Lal Thakur, Vidya Stokes and Satyawati Parmar – the wife of the state’s first CM Yashwant Parmar.

Satyawati, who presided over the Congress’ state unit from 1964 to 1969 and served as a Rajya Sabha member, held sway in the political arena. Leaders like JBL Khachi offered a presence that posed a challenge to the Congress leadership.

Today, the apple industry stands as a robust 6,000-crore economy, providing sustenance to over 1.75 million families. However, discontent simmers among growers, particularly directed at the BJP government’s handling of a market crash during its tenure. Despite Congress’ dominance in seven out of eight assembly segments in Shimla district – a testament to the party’s efforts to assuage grower grievances by raising the minimum support price to 12.5 per kilogram – challenges persist. Issues like the escalating costs of fungicides, packaging materials, and other agricultural inputs, exacerbated by adverse weather conditions, weigh heavily on fruit growers’ minds.

The region holds greater significance for the Congress as Shimla’s parliamentary representation extends prominently into CM Sukhu’s cabinet, with key ministers and officials hailing from the region — industry minister Harshwadhan Chauhan, health minister Dhani Ram Shandil, education minister Rohit Thakur , public works minister Vikramaditya Singh and rural development minister Anirudha Singh,

Deputy speaker Vinay Kumar, chief parliamentary secretaries Sanjay Awasthi, Homan Lal Brakta and Ram Kumar.

Education Minister Rohit Thakur, a seasoned legislator, predicts a shift towards Congress in Devbhumi, emphasising the electorate’s focus on pertinent issues.

BJP leverages tribal status to Sirmaur’s Hatti

The BJP, for one, is looking to leverage emotive issues like the Hatti community’s struggle for tribal status, tapping into sentiments silently in the dominant districts like Sirmaur where they have a significant population.

ST status was granted to the Hatti community under the BJP regime in the state after a long-drawn struggle. The Union government issued a notification granting tribal status to the Hatti community and the Congress-led state government implemented the notification in December last year. However, the Himachal Pradesh high court issued an interim order staying the notification in January.

Community members had been holding demonstrations against the state government over non-implementation of the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Second Amendment) Act, 2023, that notified the community as Scheduled Tribes. BJP will try to invoke sympathy silently in the Sirmaur district, where they have significant numbers in three of four assembly segments.

However, challenges persist, with clamour for improved infrastructure and employment opportunities also being major issues for the people of Sirmaur..

Illegal mining a challenge

Beyond the apple orchards, industrialisation initiatives like the proposed medical device park in the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh (BBN) region stand as pivotal endeavours. While the BJP touts these projects as drivers of economic growth, concerns over the mining mafia and the need for sustainable development loom large.

In the intricate tapestry of politics and progress, Shimla’s electoral dynamics reflect the aspirations and challenges of its diverse populace and the results here will have a significant bearing on shaping the state’s trajectory in the years to come.

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