It promises to be the most exciting electoral battle in the hills in recent times. With multiple rallies by PM Narendra Modi, the BJP has hit the ground running. Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP started off strong but has of late diverted much of its focus to Gujarat. The Congress campaign rests on the shoulders of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra but is yet to pick up pace. News18 tours the state to gauge public sentiment and political strategies ahead of Himachal Pradesh elections 2022.
The Congress will go into the Himachal Pradesh assembly polls without declaring a chief ministerial candidate. The chairman of the election committee of the party’s state unit, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, said the Congress will instead enter the elections with its “haath ka nishaan” (hand symbol).
With veteran leader Virbhadra Singh’s demise, the party is staring at a leadership vacuum in the poll-bound state. However, Congress leaders say that his absence will not weaken the chances of a victory.
“We should not make a person bigger than the organisation and that is how we should think for other states as well. It is an organisation that should remain supreme,“ said Sukhu, a three-time Congress MLA from the Nadaun constituency.
Responding to a question on who could be the CM candidate among the present lot, Sukhu hinted at his own candidature.
“Virbhadra Singh had been the chairman of the election committee and, after him, I have got the chance of becoming the chairman. People know who is heading the election committee. There is an eligibility test before becoming a CM,” added the former party state chief.
‘Priyanka Gandhi will take the lead in Himachal’
Four rallies of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have been finalised by the Congress as of now. Sukhu stated that there will be rallies at the district level as well. “People are excited with Priyanka ji taking the lead. She has one home that too in Himachal. The state was formed by her grandmother and she loved the people of Himachal Pradesh,” he said.
Does he believe that Rahul Gandhi should come to Himachal as well, taking time out of the Bharat Jodo Yatra? “During elections, such movements have no impact. If he can take out time from Bharat Jodo Yatra then he can do the rally as well. He is a political person,” said Sukhu.
The Congress believes that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has lost steam in the state. “In Himachal, three parties contest elections: one is BJP, the second is Congress, and then a third party (be it AAP or CPI-M). The third party gets 5 per cent of the votes. There are two other invisible parties: one is with BJP, the other with Congress. They too get 3 per cent votes. The constituencies where these invisible parties get more vote share, their principal party gets benefited. AAP too is in the category of that 5 per cent share,” Sukhu said.
On internal feuds and fissures within the party with two of its working presidents joining the BJP, Sukhu maintained that the working presidents are just leaders being groomed to be next-generation leaders.
“They can’t do rallies and the strongest units are block-level organisations. We do not give too much importance to working presidents as it is a leadership-grooming exercise. They (working presidents who have left the Congress) were first-timers as well. There is no group in Congress. It is a narrative created by the BJP,” he said.
Strengthening the rural economy appears to be a big focus of the party. The Congress says that it will buy 10 kg of milk and dung from cattle breeders. “We will implement 10 guarantee schemes like 300 unit free electricity to 18 lakh families of Himachal Pradesh, allowance to women above 18 years, start-up schemes for youngsters, old pension scheme for government employees,” said Sukhu, who believes unemployment, corruption, inflation, and deaths during the Covid outbreak are among issues that the Congress will take up.
The MLA said that the politics of Himachal is different from that of other states. He believes that rather than big rallies, it is crucial to have small meetings and gatherings to reach the voters.
A dig at BJP’s double-engine Sarkar
“It is not for the first time that a double-engine government has come. The Congress had a double-engine ki Sarkar in the past as well. The Prime Minister has come to Himachal Pradesh for the tenth time but did he give any special grant to the state? He calls Himachal his second home but he cares only about Gujarat. The BJP will not get a consecutive term,” added the Congress leader.
The tracks on which the Vande Bharat Express is running were laid during Congress’s time, he said.
“In 2017, the PM had said that he hadn’t seen a railway line that was launched in 40 years. Why did he not extend it? Anurag Thakur should have got the inauguration done today,” said Sukhu.
‘Legacy of Congress, not of Virbhadra’
On Congress having a leadership vacuum after Virbhadra Singh, Sukhu said that “ideology never dies”. “There had been three by-elections and one Lok Sabha election and we won all of them. Even then Virbhadra Singh had passed away. People of Himachal do not believe in a personality cult,” he said.
On the legacy of Pratibha Singh, he said that she was made the state unit president because she is an MP and is supposed to tour the whole state. “There was no legacy and legacy of what? It is a legacy of Congress and not of a particular person,” he added.