Custom or Congress: What Swung Himachal Against BJP?

Some have blamed BJP's Himachal loss on the party’s internal factionalism. Others see the outcome as a natural expression of the state's 'rivaaz' of alternating parties every five years.

This article, first published at 8.21 pm on December 8, 2022, was republished at 3.21 pm on December 9, 2022. 

Chandigarh: While addressing an election rally two days before the Himachal Pradesh assembly polls on November 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged the people to change the rivaaz or custom of alternately voting for the BJP and the Congress, saying it has hurt the state.

Since the 1985 assembly elections, neither the BJP nor the Congress have had the chance to stay in power for a second time. As Thursday’s results showed, the BJP did not succeed in changing that custom.

Even Modi’s high-voltage campaign fell short of ensuring victory for his party, which was also grappling with several local issues, such as unemployment, apple farmers’ protests, etc.

The Election Commission announced that the Congress, which was reduced to 21 seats in the 2017 election, surged to win 40 seats, while the BJP got 25 seats – a decrease of 19 seats from the last election. In the 2017 election, the BJP has secured 44 seats.

Three remaining seats went to independents candidates – two of whom had rebelled against the BJP and one against the Congress.

The BJP has conceded defeat in Himachal Pradesh, with Jairam Thakur tendering his resignation as chief minister to the governor. Himachal Pradesh Congress chief, Pratibha Singh, said, “It is a very emotional moment for me as I can see the same kind of support from people as it was for late Virbhadra Singh.”

Professor Ramesh Chauhan, a political analyst based in Shimla, told The Wire that the BJP had thought that its campaign around Modi’s image, strong leadership, double-engine government, national security, uniform civil code and other issues would help its ‘Mission Repeat’.

“But Thursday’s poll outcome has clearly indicated that this kind of campaigning has its limitations when issues like unemployment and inflation are heavy on voters’ minds. Besides, there was apparent desperation among employees and apple growers in the state,” said Chauhan.

Also read: BJP Loses Himachal Pradesh, Where it Has No Community to Demonise

According to Chauhan, despite lacking an established leader during the election campaign, the Congress was able to emerge victorious because it addressed these issues.

It also managed to win the support of the state’s powerful apple lobby, which was facing problems with the BJP in the state, he added.

Some pollsters blamed rebels for the BJP’s defeat. It lost at least three to four seats because of the presence of party rebels.

Some experts also blamed it on the party’s internal factionalism. Supporters of former BJP chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal were reportedly unhappy over the party’s decision to fight the election under Jairam Thakur despite his alleged poor performance.

The election results have also come as a setback for BJP national president J.P. Nadda, as Himachal Pradesh is his home turf. He had campaigned thoroughly in the state ahead of the assembly polls, and was personally responsible for the party’s overall strategy in the state.

Kangra region voted against BJP

The 68-seat Himachal Pradesh assembly is divided into three regions – Kangra, Mandi and Shimla.

It is said that the road to power in the state goes through the Kangra region, where 25 of 68 assembly seats are located. Of these, the Kangra district alone has 15 seats, and Una and Hamirpur districts have five seats each.

In 2017, the BJP won 16 of the 25 seats. This time, the party won only five, including four seats in Kangra district and one in Una. It could not open its account in the Hamirpur district, which is seen as a stronghold of Union minister Anurag Thakur.

Congress, on the other hand, ended up winning 18 seats, due to which it was able to get a comfortable majority in the state assembly. It won 10 seats in Kangra district alone and four each in Una and Hamirpur districts.

The two remaining seats went to independent candidates – one in Hamirpur and the other in Dehra in Kangra district.

Experts say that the issue of unemployment worked in favour of the Congress in this region.

Besides, the party also protested against the Agniveer scheme, launched by the BJP-led Union government, under which the army will recruit personnel below officer rank into the military for four years.

BJP’s poor performance in Shimla region

Separately, the BJP performed poorly in the Shimla region as well, which comprises a total of 20 seats – eight from the Shimla district, five each in Solan and Sirmaur districts, and one seat each in Lahaul and Spiti, and Kinnaur.

Traditionally, it has been the Congress’s stronghold and known as the apple growers’ den.

In 2017, the BJP had won nine seats. This time, it won only three seats.

In fact, the saffron party was almost wiped out in the Shimla district, winning just one seat out of eight. It also failed to open an account in the Solan district while losing seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in Kinnaur, and Lahaul & Spiti.

In Sirmour, the BJP won two of the five seats.

Pollsters said that the resentment among apple growers in the state could be one of the reasons behind the saffron party’s poor performance.

Congress, on the other hand, managed to win 16 seats.

BJP performed well in Mandi region

The only saving grace for the BJP was the Mandi region, which comprises 23 seats – 10 in Mandi district, five in Chamba and four each in Bilaspur and Kullu.

It ended up winning 16 seats – nine alone from the Mandi district, which is also the home district of outgoing chief minister Jairam Thakur.

In Chamba, the BJP won three seats, and the Congress won two. In Kullu district, the BJP and Congress shared two seats each. In Bilaspur district, the BJP won three and the Congress, one.

It is believed that Thakur’s personal connection might have worked for the party in Mandi. Besides, Nadda, who also belongs to this area, has worked overtime to push the party’s fortunes.