Prem Kumar Dhumal and Rajendra Singh Rana: Friends turned Foes in a Faceoff in Himachal 2017 Assembly Election

Rana – who was once in the BJP and was considered close to Dhumal – parted ways with the saffron party and won the 2012 assembly polls from Sujanpur with a huge margin of about 12,000 votes as an independent candidate. But he lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Hamirpur, says Navodita, our Associate Editor, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.

As voting for the state of Himachal Pradesh comes closer on November 9, the announcement of Prem Kumar Dhumal as a chief ministerial candidate of BJP has come as a surprise as he faced a tough challenge from Congress’ Rajendra Singh Rana from the Sujanpur constituency. Although Dhumal is a very popular figure in his hometown from where he hails, his elevation to Sujanpur is a welcome step. Rana – who was once in the BJP and was considered close to Dhumal – parted ways with the saffron party and won the 2012 assembly polls from Sujanpur with a huge margin of about 12,000 votes as an independent candidate. But he lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Hamirpur, a loss attributed to the Narendra Modi wave. What then is in store for him?

Dhumal’s government is remembered for the upkeep of roads, with local residents saying the Virbhadra Singh government worked more for government officials than for improving road infrastructure. Indeed, roads are broken in many stretches across the state. Rana claims he is still upbeat although Dhumal maybe a lot more popular in the area.

In the state, key findings are here:

  • There are 49,88,367 electors spread out across 12 districts in the state
  • 90 percent of the electors are urban, while 10 percent are local
  • 69 percent of electors are in the age group of 25-60 years, while only 15 percent are in the age group of 18-25 years
  • In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had a lead in 5/6th of Assembly segments with 59 percent of the votes
  • In 2012 assembly polls, Congress had won the election with 36 percent of the votes polled
  • Six-time chief minister Virabhadra Singh says his achievements are his main campaign theme this time

So the main highlights by the Congress this time are the achievements of the incumbent chief minister in the fields of education, agriculture, horticulture and medical facilities. In all walks of life, the achievements made by this government have been acknowledged by the Central government except in the case of GST exemption limit on which the Centre said that the State government has asked for the lower GST exemption limit of Rs. 10 lakh in Himachal Pradesh. Chief Minister Virabhadra Singh responded to this by denying such a demand saying no state would want extra burden on its people. He retorted by saying that it had been imposed arbitrarily, unilaterally by the Centre.

Meanwhile, this time, the CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury was also seen speaking at a well-attended rally in Simla and Kusumpati constituencies. He said demonetisation and GST implemented by the Modi government had ruined the informal economy of the nation and the common man is pressed to the wall. Yechury said the BJP is paying big tributes to Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel these days but has forgotten that it was he who had demanded a ban on the RSS. The same RSS is now out to demolish the democratic institutions of the country and pushing it towards a kind of dictatorship. The small and marginal business enterprises were severely affected after demonetisation and he said that the Left parties and other parties have decided to observe November 8 as a black day. The Left leader also said that the gap had increased between the rich and the poor in the last three years. During the UPA, 1% of the population was controlling 49% of GDP but now this 1% is controlling about 60% of the nation’s GDP.

CPI(M) Politburo member Subhashini Ali, too, raised the issue of rape and murder of the Shimla schoolgirl and deteriorating law and order in the entire country in the Modi-Yogi raj.

However, the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to make its presence felt in the state ahead of voting. Dhumal addressed a number of rallies in support of the candidates of his party. He addressed rallies in Naina Devi, Jubbal and Kotkhai, Shimla Urban and Kusumpati. Dhumal criticised the incumbent government for corruption and poor law and order situation in the state saying the economic reforms taken up by the Modi government had already started showing their results as the ease of doing the business ranking for India had improved from 130 to 100. He added that PM Modi was not answerable to the opposition on every issue but was accountable to the general public who had voted him to power.

While surveys may have given Dhumal the edge and helped Shah make the decision between Union Minister for Health J.P. Nadda and Dhumal, it is clear that on the popularity scale, Dhumal far outdid Nadda. Party leaders said Dhumal’s popularity and the fact that he stuck to state politics won him the ticket for chief ministership.

As the D-day comes closer, it may be noticed that even the traders in the state are not very happy with the GST implementation, they may not swing the results of the Assembly elections. Another major issue is the right of the Tibetans to vote in the elections in Himachal Pradesh. Although they were granted voting rights few Tibetans are actually ready to avail it. Most choose not to opt for Indian citizenship due to political as well as cultural reasons. Certain matters languish in darkness. What remains to be seen is which way the Himachalis will go this time – saffron or the Congress – way yet again!

©Navodita Pande

Photos from the Internet

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