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Views | Himachal Poll verdict, stakes for party presidents Kharge and Nadda

Views | Himachal Poll verdict, stakes for party presidents Kharge and Nadda

Views | Himachal Poll verdict, stakes for party presidents Kharge and Nadda
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By KV Prasad  Nov 17, 2022 10:39:28 AM IST (Updated)

It will be tempting for political observers to interpret the verdict of the just concluded Himachal Pradesh elections from the prism of newly elected Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge. Such a simplistic deduction would be erroneous. On the other hand, the stakes are higher for the BJP president Jagat Prakash Nadda, in his home state of Himachal Pradesh.

The People of Himachal Pradesh have spoken on which party it trusts to govern the state for the next five years.  The strength in which  the electorate came out to exercise their franchise on November 12 surpassed the 75 per cent plus record of the 55 lakh voters who turned out in the last assembly elections.

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The turnout leads to several theories interpreting  which way the wind was blowing in the Hill State amid strong claims by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party government of bucking the trend and retaining power. On the other hand, the Congress as the principal challenger too exuded confidence that people of Himachal yearned for a change. For the last three decades, the electors have voted out the incumbent government that brought in the  BJP and the Congress alternately. This time around with the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party the possibility of a third choice coming in a spoiler cannot be ruled out.
Be that as it may, it will take another four weeks for the results to be declared. When the verdict is out on December 8, it has the propensity to determine the future of national presidents of two parties, Mallikarjun Kharge of the Indian National Congress and Jagat Prakash Nadda of the  BJP.
Nadda, who stepped in as the party president after  Union Home Minister Amit Shah vacated it, had a major stake in the Himachal elections. He assumed a major role in crafting a strategy in his home state.
Although born in Patna, Nadda’s family hails from Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh and he  served as the Health Minister in the Prem Kumar Dhumal government that was voted out in 2003. This is the first time the elections are held for the state government on his watch and the party faced a major challenge in the form of  rebels who decided to queer the pitch by contesting as independents.
The BJP Chief remained in the State for a prolonged period to  mollify the party leaders who were upset over denial of  tickets and entered the electoral fray to complicate calculations. At the last count, there were at least 20 party loyalists who threw their hat in the 68-member assembly elections. As a measure of its displeasure the BJP expelled a clutch of them including state vice president Kirpal Parmar, a former Rajya Sabha MP and some former legislators.
The Congress too faced similar woes of rebels preferring to challenge the official candidates but the severity was less compared to the BJP.  In the run up to the polls some 25-odd Congress leaders including two working presidents cross over to join the BJP while the rebels who contested remained in single digit.
The Congress faces a different set of issues in the form of a number of competitors to lead the government should the voters favour a change. In the absence of Virbhadra Singh, one of the most enduring party leaders with mass following in both the upper and lower regions of Himachal, his widow Pratibha Singh led the party.
The others who are ambitious and hopeful of getting a look-in include the Leader of the Opposition, Mukesh Agnihotri. This journalist-turned-politician was groomed by ‘Raja’, as Virbhadra Singh was known in the state politics on account of his royal lineage.  Waiting in the wings is former State Congress Chief Sukhvinder Singh ‘Sukhu”. He belongs to another camp and not exactly a favourite of followers of Virbhadra Singh.
With Rahul Gandhi away on his walkathon ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was the star campaigner for the Congress with state incharge Rajiv Shukla in tow. The  Congress decided to focus attention on issues that resonated with the people  including the hot button Old Pension Scheme, that tugged at the heart of the people since a majority of the working  population are employed by the government.
For the new Congress president, Himachal Pradesh is the first occasion when the party is contesting an assembly election. The immediacy of the task at hand for the new president was known and the circumstances in the run-up to elections were vastly different.
One, Kharge assumed the leadership mantle under different set of circumstances. He was placed in the saddle after the Ashok Gehlot fiasco and as a loyal party worker, the octogenarian accepted the responsibility at a late stage. Second, by then most of the strategy and work for the assembly election was completed.  Kharge, at best, was associated as a member of the Congress Working Committee, the ultimate body that clears party candidates. In fact, the party issued the first list of candidates a day after Kharge was declared winner in the party presidential election. Finally,  barring a solitary and proforma appearance, Kharge was not associated with campaigning for the Congress party in Himachal Pradesh.
In such a scenario to interpret the verdict from the prism of the success or otherwise of Kharge . Such a simplistic deduction would be erroneous. At best, a victory can be seen as a harbinger of change under a new president and aid him in the task of rejuvenating the ordinary party karyakatas, who are the backbone of the Grand Old Party. 
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. Views expressed are personal.
Read his other columns here
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