India is set to witness back-to-back assembly elections in the coming two years. The results will define the mood of the country and will be a precursor of the 2019 LS elections. The election season starts with Himachal Pradesh & Gujarat. These elections are critical since they come after implementation of two major controversial reforms in India – Demonetization and GST rollout.
Himachal Pradesh has traditionally voted in favour of anti-incumbency and has seen power alternate between BJP & Congress governments. Congress is on the backfoot with the disproportionate assets case against their CM Virbhadra Singh. As per statistics, 40% of Himachal youth are under influence of drugs. Narendra Modi has slammed the Virbhadra government blaming it for “drug mafia raj” – ‘Udta Himachal’ flies in the face of CM.
Let us look at some interesting trends & issues across the four parliamentary constituencies of Himachal Pradesh.
The Gudiya rape and murder case is likely to impact Congress in a negative way. The sentiments of women and young voters are against Congress given the botched-up investigation by the police and High Court instructing CBI to take over the case.
The existing aging CM, Virbhadra Singh, knows that if he loses this election, he is not likely to again lead the state after 5 years. To ensure continuity of the dynastic rule in the state, he has given up his rural seat in Shimla to his debutant son Vikramaditya Singh. Despite this, Vikramaditya is facing a tough challenge from Pramod Sharma – who is protégé of Virbhadra Singh. Don’t be surprised if INC loses the Shimla Rural seat..
The seats in Shimla district are traditionally split between the BJP & Congress. No significant changes are expected this time round, but BJP has a slight advantage in view of their win in the civic polls in Shimla this year.
It is often said in the valley, that the road to Shimla goes through Kangra. This district is one of the most populous districts in Himachal and since the last four decades, the party that wins the majority seats in Kangra, is usually the one that forms the government. In 2012, the Congress won 10 out of 15 seats in Kangra. In 2007, BJP won 10 seats and they formed the government. In 2014 LS elections, Kangra had a 20% + increased turnout and 42% increase in winning margin for the BJP candidate compared to 2009 LS vote counts. Traditionally, Kangra has been the borough of BJP veteran Shanta Kumar. BJP is facing rebellion in Kangra district & victory will not come easy for them.
Hamirpur is the stronghold for BJP – especially of CM candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal. His son Anurag Thakur is a 3rd time MP from this district. BJP’s strategy in naming Dhumal as CM candidate should result in BJP winning majority of seats from here. Hamirpur has a higher proportion of women voters as many of the men are enrolled in the armed forces. The votes of armed forces may also swing towards BJP. Even in the 2012 assembly elections which BJP had lost, it had won 10 of the 17 seats from Hamirpur. This district is poised to go to the BJP this time also.
This is one of the weakest districts for the BJP. In the 2014 LS elections, even though BJP won all the 4 LS seats, the voter turnout was much lower than the 20% increase across other districts. The margin of victory was also much less than the previous 2009 LS elections. BJP seems to have pulled out a masterstroke by wooing Anil Sharma, the rural development minister from the Congress cabinet over to BJP. He has been given the Mandi seat which is the stronghold of his family – namely former tainted Union Minister Sukh Ram. Anil Sharma is confident that he can deliver the seats from this district to BJP.
A key observation is that the Congress has not fielded many of its high profile VVIP leaders to campaign in Himachal. There seems to be some hesitancy in involving their forever in-waiting President Rahul Gandhi more actively in Himachal. They are most likely to blame the loss to anti-incumbency towards the CM and negative BJP propaganda. Smaller parties are not expected to win any seats & their vote share will further dip. The vote share of 4 smaller parties in 2012 were, CPM 4.98%, CPI 2.18%, NCP 1.97% and BSP only 1.22%. This time it is projected that there will be a 4 % swing of votes from these parties towards BJP.
BJP seems to have got its strategy right for Himachal. Their war room in Shimla is buzzing with 150 people 24×7 connecting on phone with all the voters on their issues & powering their social media campaign. In stark contrast, the Congress war room at times is deserted and attending ‘important meetings’ prior to the visit of Rahul Gandhi.
As per my prediction model, BJP will win with a THUMPING majority of 57 seats!
The next BIG election is in Gujarat! Keep tuned in for the prediction for Gujarat in the next few weeks…