Assembly election: What swung the vote in Himachal Pradesh - Hindustan Times

Assembly election: What swung the vote in Himachal Pradesh

Dec 09, 2022 06:01 AM IST

The victory is important for the Congress for the simple reason that it gives the party a third state to govern.

In a state where voters usually prefer to keep political parties on their toes by switching the government every five years — the trend has been unbroken since 1985 — the Congress’s victory in Himachal Pradesh is not a surprise. In fact, a defeat would have been the surprise.

Congress supporters celebrate the victory in the Himachal Pradesh elections in Kullu. (ANI)(HT_PRINT)
Congress supporters celebrate the victory in the Himachal Pradesh elections in Kullu. (ANI)(HT_PRINT)

But it is a mark of the political times that the result has still come as a huge source of relief for the Congress, which wasn’t sure if it would be able to make it, and a source of disappointment for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was hoping to change the state’s electoral history.

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Himachal Pradesh Assembly election result 2022: Full list of Congress winners

But it is not just the pattern that has stayed intact. Unlike Gujarat, where the national leadership of the BJP took charge and micromanaged the elections, and where the national quite strongly prevailed over the local, Himachal showed the continued resilience of local factors in determining state-level outcomes. And when an election becomes local or even hyper local, it is often hard for the BJP to impose its dominance .

Also Read | 'In Himachal poll, vote share difference less than 1%': PM Modi | Top quotes

The nature of the mandate

One must be cautious in extrapolating a big political message from the Himachal elections for there is a clear disjunct between the difference in the vote share between the two parties and the difference in the number of seats. The Congress won 40 seats, while the BJP won 25; the Congress won 43.09% of the vote share, while the BJP won 43%.

But do note that in both cases, the BJP dipped from its 2017 performance while the Congress improved. Seven state ministers also lost the elections, and in some regions, particularly Kangra, the party fared badly. Taken together , it is clear that while the mandate may not be a ringing endorsement of the Congress and the election was competitive, it does mark a shift away from the BJP.

Observers of the state point to two broad sets of reasons for the setback that the BJP faced -- in the domain of politics and in the domain of policy.

Politically, the BJP struggled to cope with internal factionalism and rebel candidates. Chief Minister Jairam Thakur managed to hold on to his district but his term hasn’t been marked by dynamism. JP Nadda is the party’s national president but has also been a state-leader with his own history of collaborations and rivalries that came into play. Veterans Shanta Kumar and PK Dhumal haven’t been happy with the party. Those who didn’t get tickets refused to stay on within the framework of party discipline and made a dent. For a party that prides itself on coherence, the party unit came across as disparate.

But the more important factor has been policy. Inflation has hurt voters. In a state with 250,000 government employees, the Congress’s promise of restoring the old pension scheme — where the government took care of the entire amount as opposed to the new scheme which involves both employee and government contribution — struck a chord. In a state that also sends a high number of jawans to the Indian army, and was a site of major protests when the Agnipath scheme was announced, there was also a level of disillusionment and discontentment arising from the scheme’s implications for the young.

The victory is important for the Congress for the simple reason that it gives the party a third state to govern. The party will have to be careful given its track record of managing to lose power in states where it has electorally won. The Himachal Congress is marked by internal feuds; the margin of victory is narrow; and the 2024 verdict from the state’s four Lok Sabha constituencies may mark continued BJP dominance when it comes to national elections. All of this means that the party will have to both retain its organisational coherence and deliver reasonably competent governance if it wants to live up to the mandate it has received.

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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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