With all results in, the Congress with 40 seats has won a comfortable majority in the Himachal Pradesh assembly that went to the polls on November 12. The victory has come as a much-needed respite for the party that has been facing defeats consistently in the recent past.
But what was it that helped the Congress win in the hill state apart from the fact that no party has been able to win two consecutive terms in Himachal Pradesh. The perceived lack of governance by the Jairam Thakur government was one of the main reasons for the BJP’s failure as was the lack of significant Hindutva sentiment. The elections came at a time when there was growing public opinion that the state lacked effective governance.
Lack of governance
The frequent change of chief secretaries — the state saw seven changes in the post in the last five years — the police recruitment scam and the draft Shimla development plan, which had to be rolled back, added to the impression that the CM was not in charge.
Also read: Himachal solace aside, road to 2024 gets tough for Congress
The anger over the New Pension Scheme also cost the BJP dearly as did the rising prices. The other factors that went against the Jairam government were the Agniveer scheme for army recruitment, the rising unemployment in the wake of the pandemic, and protests by apple farmers over falling profits.
The OPS impact
In a state where government employees form a formidable vote bank, the revival of the Old Pension Scheme promised by both the Congress and the AAP struck a chord. There are about 2.5 lakh government employees in the state and out of them 1.5 lakh are covered under the New Pension Scheme. The Old Pension Scheme, under which the entire pension amount was given by the government, was discontinued in the country from April 1, 2004.
Rising prices also made it difficult for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had lost four by-polls at the end of 2021 because of the same reason — the Congress had won all the four seats, including the Lok Sabha seat of Mandi and assembly seats of Fatehpur, Arki, and Jubbal Kotkhai. The rise of essential commodities was a major talking point among women in rural areas who also cited the spiralling price of LPG to make their point. Also, the central government was mainly blamed for the price rise.
Agniveer and apple lobby
Similar was the case with the Agniveer scheme for recruitment in the Army. The central government’s scheme under which soldiers would be recruited for only four years, had led to much heartburn in the state where a large number of youth join the armed forces every year. People looked at the Agniveer scheme as a loss of livelihood opportunity.
The anger of the apple lobby too hurt BJP’s chances in upper Himachal Pradesh. The lower prices given to the apple growers by the Adani Group miffed the apple growers and the increase of GST on cartons further dented the profits. The apple growers, much like the farmer’s agitation a year back, seem to have voted in large numbers against the alleged bid to ‘corporatise’ horticulture, as is evident from the BJP’s losses in the apple-growing regions of the state.
It was not that the BJP was not aware of the anti-incumbency in the state. It tried to overcome this by doing what has become an usual practice for the party — denying tickets to sitting legislators. In HP, 11 MLAs were not given the ticket by the party, which led to a large number of rebels jumping into the fray.
Congress’ focussed campaign
The Congress too kept its campaign focussed on local issues and reposed faith in its local leadership, a strategy that paid off well. Unlike the BJP, which wanted the election to be a Modi vs Congress, the Congress kept the focus on door-to-door campaigns and on exposing the failures of the BJP government over the last five years.
Also read: After UP debacle, Himachal outcome tastes as sweet success for Priyanka Gandhi
Though Modi tried to strike an emotional chord with the electorate by saying that “candidates are not important” and that “every vote for lotus will be vote for Modi”, the voters in HP refused to be swayed.
The efforts by some BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath to raise the communal pitch too failed in Himachal, unlike in Gujarat where results were also declared the same day and other mainland states, as at around 2-2.5 per cent minority population in the state is miniscule.