As the Himachal Pradesh Assembly election results stream in, it is increasingly evident that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has seen a loss of face.
The rise of the Congress is more a shock for the Congress leadership itself, given how it was literally fighting a mentally defeated battle.
However, the BJP would take heart from the fact that the party did manage to win nearly as many votes as the Congress, even though the vote share to seat translation has not been to its desired effect.
Here are the key takeaways from the state’s results:
Question Mark On The Leadership From State
Strongholds of the BJP stalwarts from lower Himachal — J P Nadda and Anurag Thakur — are particularly embarrassing for the party, as the decimation in these places is startling.
The knives have come out, with people accusing the two of sabotaging the candidate selection processes to get their favourites selected.
One glaring example of the same is Fatehpur seat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tried to intervene personally to get BJP rebel Kirpal Singh Parmar to withdraw his candidature from Fatehpur seat, where the ticket was given to incumbent Rakesh Pathania.
Eventually, Rakesh lost to Bhawani Singh Pathania of the Congress by 3,000 votes. Parmar’s impact was clear, as he managed to secure more than 2,200 votes at the time of writing this piece.
Similarly, the Nalagarh seat in lower Himachal saw the ticket going to Lakhwinder Singh Rana from the Congress over rebel candidate K L Thakur.
Thakur had lost by 1,200 votes in 2017.
This time, as a rebel, he has won the election with a margin of 12,000 votes over Rana, a landslide by Himachal standards.
Given how Nalagarh is Himachal’s industry hub, this also sends other worrying signals for the BJP in general.
Even more questions arise on the way Jairam Thakur and his leadership failed to connect with the masses.
The insipid government in the state failed to capitalise on the momentum of the double engine and did not deliver on people’s expectations on economic growth especially.
Given how jobs have been a constant grouse in the state, the perceived lack of effort on the same did not help Thakur’s case in any way.
Even Agniveer, though sensible, was seen as an attack on jobs in many quarters, though at the end it was a lesser factor and part of the larger issue of dearth of jobs.
The Rise Of Rajendra Rana In Lower Himachal
Lower Himachal in particular saw one particular name being discussed everywhere — Rajendra Rana.
An erstwhile associate of BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal, Rana had joined Congress on being denied the ticket by Dhumal, even defeating him in 2017 despite the huge BJP wave.
Observers had been talking about the massive effort put in by Rana especially in Hamirpur and Kangra, which contribute 20-25 seats in the Vidhan Sabha.
The results are more than obvious, as the Congress sweep in the region is more than visible. What has also perhaps worked for Rana is a sense of disaffection in the lower Himachal, a traditional area of strength for the BJP, on being ‘alienated’ from power and influence to pander to upper Himachal.
Old Pension Scheme Announcement, A Race To The Bottom
The Congress’s wins in the Shimla belt in particular and Dharamshala, the other capital of the state, are a clear indication of the popularity of the old pension scheme (OPS) announcement at the last minute to secure votes.
The ruinous idea has clearly seen traction in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Punjab, and the Congress’s win in the state now will mean that all political parties, especially those in the opposition to BJP, will use this as a calling card.
Hard earned reforms will be lost to electoral politics, as the lesson derived from this Congress victory, which was a surprise really, is that only deep populism works.
Of course, there is the argument that even the BJP engages in populism of this kind, an example of which is the free ration under Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana.
However, the fiscal impact of the OPS on state finances, much like farm loan waiver announcements that saw Congress win pre-2019 as well, is definitely a worrisome trend to watch out for.
Upper Caste Anger?
The BJP has definitely been at the receiving end of the savarna community, which dominates Himachal uniformly.
The inability of the party to deliver on its promised Savarna Aayog and demands for OBC surveys by MLAs in the state alongside ST status being granted to Hattis in Sirmaur did generate last minute anger.
Such machinations have definitely not gone down well with even the core BJP supporters.
While this factor is not as big as OPS, it certainly reflects the BJP’s inability to balance different interest groups and be a party representative of all social groupings.
This is a question that the party will have to think hard about going ahead for all elections.
Congress’s Headaches Have Only Just Started
Congress, while a victor, has a real headache now. Choosing the chief ministerial face is already a nightmare.
While Pratibha Singh has already made noise about the appropriate face and her son Vikramaditya, who has won from Shimla Rural, has claimed the ‘rightful’ decision, others like Sukhwinder Sukkhu have made it amply clear that the legislature party will sit and decide the chief minister from among themselves.
Clearly, Congress is in a position that would remind it of the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh fiascos, the outcomes of which are continuing to hurt the party to this day.
One small mistake may even see the party breaking up and gravitating towards the BJP which still holds a significant number of MLAs in the assembly.
Lok Sabha 2024 Will Be A Contrast
One can point out that the Lok Sabha contest in 2024 will definitely see a reversal in trends, with BJP winning at least three of the four Lok Sabha seats.
This will be driven by the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which continues to remain high.
Though the BJP tried to cash in on it, it remains a fact that the Prime Minister cannot deliver elections every time unless the party does not solve issues and delivers on people’s expectations in the manner desired of them.
Most schemes of the Centre have been successfully implemented, and as 2019 showed, state and national level elections are increasingly being treated as distinct from each other by voters.
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