Chief minster of Himachal Pradesh addressing a rally in Shimla.
Shimla: Irrespective of whichever party gets the majority in the coming Himachal Assembly elections (scheduled for November 9), the fallout of all the machinations taking place these days will have a significant impact on the basic character of the hill-folk of the state. Gone are the times of blind trust, loyalties and honouring promises . Less acceptable concepts like “faayda” (profit), “zaroorat” (need), “usko isbaar sikhayenge” (will teach him a lesson this time, etc. are in full circulation. The mass churning of the public during the state-wide campaigns is revealing many such traits in the making, offering a fertile field to sociologists for an interesting study.
During this process, we also see a silver lining – a vibrant, self-assertive people talking their hearts out to both small and big leaders. We see scores of voters arguing with these worthies about claims made by them.
Understandably, the BJP workers are highlighting the contribution of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi to Himachal’s growth, apart from Prem Kumar Dhumal’s in his two terms as the state’s Chief Minister. They also underline the Central Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda’s active involvement in promoting Himachal’s interests.
Some voters’ retorts include quoting of Modi’s statement during his public meetings in Himachal, like “chaar kamal do, mai Himachal ko Gujarat banaa dunga” (give me the four Lok Sabha seats, I will turn Himachal into another Gujarat). A video in which the now Central Minister Uma Bharti described Modi as a “vinaash purush and not a vikas purush” (a destructive man – not a development man) in those days while she opposed him bitterly, has gone viral.
Predictably, issues like demonetisation, benefits of GST, lowered interest rates on small savings, linking the Aadhar Card to mobile phones, bank accounts and such other “hassles” are also thrown at workers who answer them with patience and politeness – at times in lightly apologetic murmurs.
The Congress campaigners too are having a rather rough time. The recent dissensions and the recent shift in some leaders’ party affiliations are aired, evoking sniggers from bystanders. While some voters refer to the ageing Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s small circle of officials calling the shots, others vent their anger and disgust against the government’s “failure” in handling the recent gang-rape and murder of a teenage school girl in Kotkhai ( it caused widespread resentment at that time ).
This time, the voters’ voices have become decidedly pointed and strong. Many campaigners have confessed that in these elections, “it has become very difficult to convince the people” especially the neutral ones. While the committed voters are not a problem, the game-changers are usually the uncommitted (“floating”) voters whose number seems to be increasing.
The rising number of voters under 40 years of age — presently estimated at 43 per cent of the electorate — is another concern for both the major parties. Even so, surprisingly, both BJP and Congress have fielded only 10 candidates below that age, while the Communist Party of India contesting 14 seats in the state have only three in this age bracket. Interestingly, under an initiative from the Election Commission, the district administrations have been making considerable efforts to motivate the youth to cast their votes.
While helicopters of the prominent leaders campaigning in both BJP and Congress have been crisscrossing the skies, political ambitions have over-taken family relationships. In a state known for very strong familial ties, many contests are on the cards between close relatives.
For instance, while the Congress candidate Dhani Ram Shandil is pitted against his son-in-law Dr. Rajesh Kashyap in Solan; the BJP stalwart Maheshwar Singh is contesting from Kullu, and his nephew is the Congress nominee from Banjar. It has been frequently observed that members of many families have different political affiliations. Several candidates denied the party tickets have either joined the opposite camp, while some have filed their nominations as Independents.
These “rebel” candidates have considerable damaging influence on their original political parties and quite capable of tilting the scales. The rebel element is one of the major factors sending fear-waves in both the Congress and BJP.
With 48 hours to go, political parties are left with no time for campaigning. In fact, it got the shortest period in the history of Himachal Assembly polls to campaign or as many would say influence voters. (Courtesy The Statesman)
Prof Vepa Rao (the writer is the Editorial Advisor to The Statesman and former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, HPU and was a professor at Indian Institute of Mass Communication)