HIMACHAL PRADESH ELECTION DIARY – PART 2
It was 14 months since the siege had begun; the impregnable fort was blockaded from all the sides, supplies had dried up a long time ago, the besieged were subsisting on boiled grass. The unconquerable Kangra fort which had never yielded to any Muslim sovereign in India; Mohammed Ghazni who had plundered every possible fort/temple/city of India had failed to capture the fort, the Lodhis and Tughlaqs had all failed to annexe it, even the powerful emperor Akbar had failed despite many attempts; at last it looked like falling into the hands of Jahangir. Finally, on 16th November 1620 the inmates surrendered, for hunger and death had defeated them in the end. Although official records are sketchy, it is said that hundreds of men and women had lost their lives in that 14 month siege and the vast treasures collected in the fort fell into the hands of the imperialists. The Delhi sultanate had won and another part of Hindustan was captured.
A year after the capture, Jahangir visited the Kangra fort in the company of chief Qazi, Mir Adil and a number of other orthodox Muslim priests. In one of the most intolerant acts of his reign as the Baadshah of Hindustan, Jahangir ordered a cow to be slaughtered and a mosque to be built in the fort. More than the misery of the fallen fort, this blatant act of intolerance by the Delhi Sultan has left a scar for life on the face of Himachal.
Present day: June 7th 2012, A Congress rally in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh:
It is an unusually hot summer for Himachal Pradesh with temperatures raging in the mid-thirties and the relentless Sun hitting on the gathered crowds who have been brought from all over Kangra valley. All the major state leaders have gathered on the dais and are waiting patiently; the crowd is getting restless in the heat of the day. The rally was supposed to have started at noon and it is more than 4 hours now since they have all gathered, but there is no sign of the leader yet. This is an important rally for the Congress party as this is an election year and this is one of those occasions when the rank and file have the opportunity to meet their leaders and work out strategies for the upcoming polls. Finally, at around 4 PM, Anand Sharma walks into the milieu and quickly the speeches are done with and the rally is over just like that, in half an hour… it is the unbearable heat that the leader cannot take, you see.
A luncheon meeting is arranged at the venue for the leaders to mix with the hoi-polloi; this is a rare occasion for Mr Anand Sharma, the chief minister wannabe, to mingle with the rank and file. Lo and behold! Sharma ji does a Houdini act; he is too grand for an ordinary lunch, so he goes off to have a private lunch in the club Mahindra resort near Dharamshala. Anand Sharma typifies everything that is wrong with the Congress dynastic politics today. He shows us how the Delhi sultanate treats other territories beyond Noida and Gurgaon, with nothing but tokenism – no wonder federalism is going to be the one challenge that would finally decimate the Congress as it stands today. More than anything else he shows us how the dynasts treat the unwashed masses with utter contempt and how it is important to be in the good books of Sonia Gandhi to enjoy the office of power rather than cultivate the rank and file.
There is already talk among the Congress circles about how Ahmed Patel would install Anand Sharma on the chief minister’s mantle once the Congress party manages to win the state this year. There is enough evidence to arrive at this possibility if one looks at the Vijay Bahuguna experiment in the neighbouring hill state of Uttaranchal. Sharma neither has the support-base in the state nor the charisma to win an election, yet he might very well be imposed by the high-command on hapless Himachalis by the end of this year. Raje or Rajah Saheb, Vir Bhadra Singh as he is known across Himachal Pradesh, has tremendous clout among not only the rank and file of the party but also among the aam janata. It is said that Raje can ensure the victory or defeat of any party candidate just by lifting the receiver of his telephone (a euphemism that has lived on, even in the post-liberalized cell-phone era). But today in Himachal Congress, virtually a million mutinies are brewing. The people of the state were witness to one such internal war in the recently held and bitterly contested youth congress elections in the state when Vir Bhadra Singh was literally pitted against G.S. Bali, the Congress strong man and Pandit leader from Nagrota.
The eventual outcome of that contest ensured sustenance of the dynastic politics in the party by electing Rajah Saheb’s son to the post – so much for all the empty talk of inducting new blood into the party by the heir apparent – Congress ecosystem is too deeply entrenched in the dynastic politics to find a way out. That Youth Congress contest has left a bitter after taste; today when G.S Bali has embarked on a Rozgar Bachao Yatra across the state as a clarion call against the state government, he is being cold-shouldered by Vir Bhadra’s followers in every district, there by blunting the campaign completely.
For once, Vir Bhadra seems to have chewed more than what he can swallow, for on one hand he has the legal dilemma of corruption cases and on the other hand he has to fight a battle of wits with the likes of Anand Sharma and Kaul Singh Thakur, while he has also taken upon himself to cut leaders like G.S. Bali to size. If these internecine wars continue, then Congress would lose whatever little advantage it enjoys due to anti-incumbency. To be fair, the P.K. Dhumal government is not facing any great deal of anti-incumbency, but then, neither has it been a standout performer. To understand the anti-incumbency factor, one must understand the psycho-social nature of the Himachali society; Himachalis are a contented lot and do not have huge aspirations as such, yet they keep throwing out incumbent governments every 5 years. One of the primary reasons for this anti-incumbent nature of Himachal politics lies in its vast number of government employees who generally get weary of the incumbent government in about 5 years and start opposing it, this opposition eventually spirals out into a larger campaign … and the cycle continues every 5 years.
Generally, in the hill state, Congress governments are considered to be more accommodative towards government employees due to the party’s inherent socialistic tendencies whereas the BJP is perceived to be a bit more dogmatic in its approach to the government employees lobby. This image of the BJP has also been augmented by its tallest leader in the state in the 80’s and 90’s – Shantakumar who was also the CM – because of his confrontationist approach to the government employees lobby. Again, to be fair to the present BJP CM of the state, he is perceived as far more accommodative in nature and by and large the government employees lobby is willing to do business with him. Having said that, there are a few minor agitations that are shaping up across the state, for instance the HPSEB (electricity board) employees have started an agitation from the home district of P.K Dhumal (Hamirpur) or the grade 4 employees who are agitating for a pay hike. Fortunately, most of these rebellions are seen to be election year rumblings to gather their pound of flesh, at best; at worst they are perceived as Congress sponsored strikes to create an artificial ‘hawa’.
There is also a growing force of a large number of unemployed youth which is creating a bit of discontentment, this is again being addressed by the present government through a mix of Santa Clasusism and pragmatism – the recent announcement of special job schemes for the tribal populace is one such measure that could deliver votes. As long as these rebellions do not spiral out of control, anti-incumbency will remain in manageable proportions, but can P.K Dhumal actually defeat history and get an unprecedented second term?
To achieve such a historic mandate, BJP not only has to overcome the rumblings of anti-incumbency but also has to set its own house in order. The fault-lines in Himachal BJP are pretty well known to all, for they are formed mainly around two of the tallest leaders in the state; chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and former chief minister Shanta Kumar have both been at cross-purposes for close to two decades. Although the latter’s influence is limited to the Kangra valley now, he still acts as the rallying point for all kinds of dissidence within the party. Fortunately for the BJP, the Sangh still has moral influence over the state unit and over both the satraps (unlike what is unfolding in Karnataka) thus maintaining the crucial balance.
Over the last few months there had been constant talk in the state about the trifurcation of Kangra district – a logical administrative decision no doubt, considering that the district is spread over 8397 Sq. kms and is home to 15 assembly segments (post de-limitation) – which is widely perceived to be a political manoeuvre by the Dhumal faction to reduce the influence of Shanta Kumar. Last week the elders in the party and the Sangh intervened to call for truce between both the warring factions and the chief minister gave an official statement to scrap the whole process of trifurcation, at least for the time-being. On June 30th a two day meeting in Chandigarh of both the factions in the state BJP (facilitated by the Sangh leadership) has managed to bring some sort of unity, but will that percolate down to the grass-root levels remains to be seen. If BJP is to achieve a history defying victory in the state, then it has to burry all the internal differences to fight with total unity as there are 40 battlefield assembly segments that may well decide who forms the next government.
Battlefield Himachal Pradesh
|Rohru||Kasumpti (SC)||Kinnaur (ST)||Solan (SC)||Sri Naina Deviji|
|Pachchad (SC)||Manali||Shimla||Paonta Sahib||Bhoranj (SC)|
| Most of the erstwhile Congress strongholds have been decimated by the BJP wave, of sorts, in 2007. For instance, Mandi region was considered as the pocket-borough of the former telecom minister Sukhram and is now seemingly up for grabs, so both the parties are trying hard to make inroads; Mandi parliamentary constituency was won by Vir Bhadra Singh in 2009 – the only LS success in the state for Congress.
Congress strongholds are historically a lot more difficult to breach, thus it makes it pertinent for the opposition to concentrate more on the battlefield seats
#Theog is the only assembly constituency that doesn’t find mention in this classification, for it is the stronghold of independent candidate Mr Rakesh Verma (supported by Raja Saheb).
|Shimla rural||Jhanduta (SC)|
|Hamirpur|| One thing that is pretty clear at the very outset is that the party is weak in the reserved seats, a natural characteristic of the BJP which is perceived to cater majorly to the upper castes; not necessarily a bad thing in the hill state which has upper castes in the majority.
Majority of the battlefield seats were won by the BJP in 2007 and therefore it has a bigger stake in that pie.
2009 polls were watershed elections for BJP, for instance it made a clean-sweep of Solan district, but sadly that district doesn’t find representation in the ministry, especially after the resignation of the health minister Dr Rajiv Bindal recently.
|Lahaul & Spiti|
*Assembly segments post delimitation
To be continued…
Epilogue: Himachal Pradesh achieved statehood after a 23 year long nonviolent struggle in January 1971, which is as unique as its people. If the moving spirit behind this struggle was Dr Y.S. Parmar, the first chief minister, its salient feature was the purity of its methods. M.B. Lal, in his article, ‘Transition to statehood without agitation or violence’, published in The Statesman (New Delhi, 20 August 1970) had stated that Himachal had been granted statehood not because of the size or population, nor because of its area, but because of the need to preserve the distinctive cultural identity of its people. Himachal is a unique Hindu abode that must always be preserved. But for long it was just another union territory headed by a Lt. Governor and ruled by the undersecretaries of the central Home-Ministry who wielded immense power and patronage and were in no mood to let these territories slip out of their hands. What helped the cause of these Babus was the fact that Nehru looked down upon the state as a secondary citizen of the Himalayan club (in comparison to his personal favourite, Kashmir). Apart from Nehru, during the Indira regime, there was one towering personality in the Congress high command who was a determined opponent of granting statehood to this hill state; my question this week to the readers of Centre Right India is, who was that leader in the Congress high command?