Ground Reports

It's Not About Victory, But The Victory Margin In Shimla Lok Sabha Constituency: Ground Report

Ankit Saxena

May 29, 2024, 02:49 PM | Updated 02:49 PM IST

Shimla's current MP, BJP's Suresh Kashyap (left), and Vinod Sultanpuri from Congress, are the candidates for  Shimla Lok Sabha constituency.
Shimla's current MP, BJP's Suresh Kashyap (left), and Vinod Sultanpuri from Congress, are the candidates for Shimla Lok Sabha constituency.
  • Conversations with Shimla residents reveal a desire to continue with Modi.
  • Known as the Queen of the Hills, Shimla, the capital and largest city of Himachal Pradesh, is a key economic centre for the state.

    The Lok Sabha constituency, by the same name, one of the state's four parliamentary seats, also remains a crucial battleground for the BJP and Congress, given its economic significance in horticulture and tourism.

    This parliamentary seat includes 17 assembly segments spread across the Shimla, Solan, and Sirmaur districts, each contributing its own unique characteristics to the election landscape.

    Presently, 13 of the region’s 17 assembly segments are represented by Congress MLAs, also making these elections a popularity test for the state government led by Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu.

    (CeoHimachal.gov.in)
    (CeoHimachal.gov.in)

    As the state goes to voting in the last phase of elections on 1 June, the contest essentially stands bipolar between the Congress and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), though the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is also contesting on all four seats of the state.

    Once a stronghold seat for Congress, the seat saw a shift as BJP’s Virendra Kashyap secured victories in the 2009 and 2014 elections, while Suresh Kashyap clinched the seat in 2019.

    In 2019, BJP’s Suresh Kumar Kashyap, who is also the party's state president, won with 66.35 per cent of the votes, more than double the 30.5 per cent secured by Congress’s candidate, Dhani Ram Shandil.

    The BJP's winning margin increased by 14 per cent from the 2014 elections, while the Congress's share decreased by nearly 10 per cent.

    This year, the Congress is fielding a new face, Vinod Sultanpuri, while the BJP has entrusted Suresh Kashyap to retain the seat.

    Based on past numbers and local opinions, the focus for this seat is not on the victory itself but on the margins by which it is achieved.

    Solan-Shimla Stretch Wants More Infrastructure To Support The Growth

    On the Chandigarh-Shimla expressway, while heading towards the capital city, smaller towns and villages appear as thriving regions, thanks to the increased tourism and accessibility to Shimla.

    In Solan, a town located nearly 50 kilometres from Shimla, numerous eateries, hotels, and resources cater to passing tourists.

    Several tourism related commerce, and continous expansion of highways can be seen in towns enroute Shimla.
    Several tourism related commerce, and continous expansion of highways can be seen in towns enroute Shimla.

    Further, as an apple-growing belt, the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) in the town is the largest in terms of transactions, both locally and in exports, complemented by the trade of garlic, cherries, plums, and other locally grown products.

    Locals at the APMC mandi in Solan are confident that the BJP will dominate not only their seat but all four constituencies in the state.

    A trader at the mandi tells Swarajya, “The BJP is once again going to win all four seats. However, I hear many people discussing issues between the two major party leaders from this state, which could create some issues for the BJP. Nonetheless, the aura of PM Modi remains very strong here, which tells that Kashyap will have a stronger hand.”

    On what they expect through these elections, he adds, “This is one of the biggest mandis in the state, but still lacks basic toilets and other facilities. The government at the Centre has done a lot for the farmers. We hope now, after the elections, there is also attention on the aadatis (traders) of this state.”

    APMC Mandi in Solan, currently trading mostly in garlics.
    APMC Mandi in Solan, currently trading mostly in garlics.
    Apple orchards spread throughout Solan and Shimla.
    Apple orchards spread throughout Solan and Shimla.

    On approaching the outskirts of Shimla, the focus of the elections shifts from the Narendra Modi factor to the party candidates, also added with various issues such as civic infrastructure, parking, sustainability, urban and rural development, reflecting the voter’s aspirations.

    Mahender Kumar, a businessman, and Congress secretary, while sharing his insights as an ordinary resident, says, “The central government’s schemes, such as old age pensions and the Awas Yojana Gramin, have been effective in the rural areas around Shimla. These schemes and other development initiatives are the focus for voting here.”

    He adds, “This state stands at second in literacy rate, people here are more focused on employment, education and economic opportunities. Also, our state is a place with a strong culture of Devi-Devta worship, so the focus with the Ram temple for the parties, does not have much influence in this region.”

    “Another important concern for the people is the way the city is growing. While the expanding industry is beneficial, there is a strong need for larger infrastructure to sustain this expansion. The candidates here are well-educated and should take this issue seriously,” adds another local resident.

    Mahender and other locals in Shimla.
    Mahender and other locals in Shimla.
    Traffic jams and continuous building expansion in Shimla.
    Traffic jams and continuous building expansion in Shimla.

    “A ropeway project has been sanctioned, and to manage the growing traffic, plans for elevated roads and additional road infrastructure are also being discussed. There have been multiple efforts from the central government, but the state and the Centre need to collaborate to develop these projects and regulate the city’s growth,” he added.

    While many areas of the Shimla city seem inclined to support the current MP again, some shopkeepers on Mall Road believe that the new Congress candidate, with his strong educational background, is also gaining traction, with which the BJP could face some anti-incumbency sentiment, although it might not significantly affect the results.

    Moreover, beyond the larger cities, the BJP, which has previously swept all four Lok Sabha seats in the state twice, appears to maintain strong support even in smaller towns, supported by benefits of government schemes, and a prevailing sense of nation first.

    Smaller Towns Are Voting For 'Rashtrahit'

    “The one who works for rashtrahit (national interest), our vote goes to them. The one who respects the country and represents it well to the world, our vote goes to them. The one who respects Sanatan Dharma and keeps it first, our vote goes to them,” says Bimla Singh from Theog, when Swarajya told her, that we are here to understand what the locals are thinking about these elections.

    Bimla runs a tyre repair and air-filling station with her husband in the main market.

    Theog, with a population of close to one lakh, can be seen to utilise benefits from both state and central government policies.

    Bimla Singh and her family at their shop in Theog.
    Bimla Singh and her family at their shop in Theog.
    Main market in Theog.
    Main market in Theog.

    In December 2023, the region, which has a large population involved in horticulture, received a fruit processing plant to enhance the local fruit industry.

    Additionally, at the Common Service Centre (CSC), many young people are registering for enrolment in government services, skill training, and academic benefits.

    CSC is an initiative by the government of India allowing the citizens in rural areas to access digital government resources and business services.

    At the main junction of the town, where the CSC for Theog is located, Jai Singh says, “Many beneficiaries have applied for the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme and old age pensions, while many youngsters come each day to register for skill training under the Kaushal Vikas Scheme (PMKVY).”

    He adds, “The youth here are keen on participating in skill training to move beyond traditional farming. They aspire to leave town and get involved in the service sector.”

    However, speaking with some beneficiaries revealed that many are facing challenges as they await the release of the ITI skill trainees list, which has been delayed for the last two years.

    “Up until 2021, government opened vacancies for multiple skill roles, but since the government changed, the rollout has been stuck, and vacancies have been piling up for the last three years,” one beneficiary explained.

    This situation in the Theog region has also impacted the electoral sentiment of the young people, who now demand strong attention to this concern.

    Jai Singh, his wife at the Common Service Centre (CSC) in Theog.
    Jai Singh, his wife at the Common Service Centre (CSC) in Theog.

    In conclusion, barring an unexpected development between now and voting day, the BJP is likely to secure a comfortable victory in Shimla. Voter sentiment appears to favour Modi, and interviews with Shimla residents reveal a general satisfaction with his tenure.

    Moreover, there is no discernible desire for change and traces of anti-incumbency against the Congress administration in the state can already be seen.

    The opposition, while present, seems unable to match the Modi momentum. We wait, however, for the fourth of June.


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