Battleground Himachal – Will BJP Be Able To Conquer Congress Bastion Of Shimla?

With the announcement of the poll date by the EC for Himachal (which is strangely one month in advance of Gujarat when counting in both the States is slated for 18th December) the main political parties will have to be in overdrive mode right from the word go as less than a month remains for the elections on 9th of November 2017.

Shimla district has been a traditional bastion of the Congress and sends 8 MLAs to the State Vidhan Sabha. In the 2012 elections, Congress won 6 of the 8 seats on offer with the BJP & independent sharing one seat each. The current Chief Minister of the State, who is seeking a record 7th term, comes from this part of the State and has won all his elections from this district.

Ironically the Gudiya rape & murder case where a schoolgirl was brutally raped and murdered on her way back from school also happened in this district. The handling of the case by the government left a lot to be desired and the involvement of the top police brass including the IPS officer Zaidi – who was supposed to solve the rape and murder mystery and was heading the SIT- drew the ire of the public which came out on the streets to vent its anger and anguish at the inept handling of the case.

The whole case  has since been handed over to the CBI by the High Court and is still under investigation by the premier investigating agency of the country. The shoddy handling of the case by the State police and the arrest of an IG rank police officer along with a DSP by the CBI has sullied the police image and that of the government, which is bound to effect the ruling party’s chances in Jubbal Kotkhai constituency where this gruesome murder took place, and other adjoining constituencies like Theog and Shimla.

Virbhadra’s current constituency Shimla (rural) looks a safe bet for the CM and it remains to be seen if he leaves this constituency for his son Vikramaditya or contests himself. In both scenarios the Congress is set to repeat its victory in this constituency. In 2012 Virbhadra won by a record 20,000 votes from Shimla (rural).

Shimla (urban) though promises to be a different kettle of fish altogether with both Congress and BJP locked in a close fight. Adding more spice to the contest would be the former Mayor of Shimla who would be contesting on a CPI(M) ticket and has the distinction of winning an open election for the seat of Mayor, as opposed to the Mayor being nominated by councillors as was the precedence earlier and was also followed in this MC elections.

Shimla (rural) is also poised for an intriguing battle as Virbhadra’s brother in law Prithvi Vikram Sen – who has joined the BJP along with his elder brother – is all set to lock horns with his Congress opponent Anirudh Singh, the sitting MLA. Prithvi Vikram Sen claims that he has been assured of a party ticket by the BJP top brass.

It is the season of political turncoats and Chopal constituency is seeing one of them. Balbir Verma, a builder turned politician, who fought as an independent and won from Chopal in 2012 by a slender margin, later aligned with the Congress only to defect to the BJP at the fag end of his term. He will in all probability get the BJP ticket and find his political opponent in Subash Manglet of the Congress. The political eccentricities of the Chopal voter are well known and it could be anybody’s game.

Jubbal Kotkhai constituency, which was the scene of the heinous and dastardly rape & murder of Gudiya leading to widespread protests and anguish amongst the people, will see BJP veteran Narinder Bragta pitted against Congressman Rohit Thakur. Last time Thakur had defeated Bragta by over 9000 votes but this time the wrath of the people could turn the tide in favour of BJP.

Rohru and Rampur have been traditional strongholds of the Congress and the current Chief Minister has emerged victorious from these constituencies with record margins before he shifted to Shimla (rural) in the last election, but this seems to have made little impact on the result as Mohan Lal Bragta of the Congress won the Rohru seat by the highest margin of over 28000 votes. Similarly, the Rampur seat which is the native place of Virbhadra was won by a margin of over 9000 votes by the Congress. It will take the might of the BJP to make any inroads into these fortresses of the Congress.

Theog, which is home to BJP octageranian Vidya Stokes, saw a severe backlash post the Gudiya gangrape with the torching of the police Station and burning of police vehicles. This time Vidya Stokes has offered her seat to Virbhadra Singh and the latter has agreed to contest from this constituency. This is being seen as a masterstroke by the Chief Minister to wrest another constituency from the BJP which could have won this assembly segment adjoining Shimla had Virbhadra not contested from this belt. In 2012 Madam Stokes won the  Theog seat by over 4000 votes saying it was her last election.

It would be interesting to see how the people of Theog react to Virbhadra’s candidature as they were out on the streets in large numbers just a couple of months back in the Gudiya rape & murder case protesting against the apathy of the police and the government. But given Virbhadra’s popularity in this part of the world, it would be surprising if Virbhadra Singh does not win by a big margin.

With just three and a half weeks to go for the elections the BJP will have to pull out all stops to dislodge the Congress and Virbhadra in particular from their citadel. If it is successful then it would be on the threshold of victory in the State.


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About the Author

Aman Gupta
Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine