'Brand Modi': BJP's biggest selling point in Himachal
Shimla: A usually long campaign, which marked its culmination on Friday for four Lok Sabha seats in Himachal Pradesh looked more like a 'Brand-Modi' theme overshadowing basic poll issues, and poll narrative in the state, where the Congress is trying to stepping in to open its account after the BJP had won all four seats in 2014 poll.
Will it be four all in favour of the BJP -- a repeat of 2014 or 2009 i.e. when Congress had won just one seat? It's a big question in Himachal Pradesh at the end of the campaign. The state goes to the poll on May 19 in the last phase, arrangements for which were given final touches on Friday.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who was in command of the campaign first-time said on Friday, "I wish, we had more than four seats to give to Modi ji. Wherever I went to campaign people's response was amazing. They were not willing to listen to anything else but Modi. The BJP will be doing better than 2014 in terms of vote share."
He returned to Shimla almost after 66-day in the campaign, and also went to the BJP office to hold discussions with the party teams, which were holding the fort during all these days. The Congress is also predicting a favourable voters' mood. The party had fielded three sitting MLAs in Shimla, Kangra and Hamirpur as part of its strategy to build-up its campaign on anti-Modi sentiments and on Prime Minister's fulfilment promises. But, there was not much to match-up with BJP's strong-armed campaign, backed-up by resources and systematic campaign.
One reason for its confidence is Friday's rally of Rahul Gandhi at Solan in Shimla constituency did draw a good response.
"Look Rahul ji has very successfully, debunked Modi's false propaganda, and lies. Contrary to what BJP was seeing in Himachal Pradesh is not a reality. There is no Modi wave like 2014 and what he promised in Himachal Pradesh, or nationally about jobs, corruption, Acche Din, black-money and ending farmers' distress not come true. Why should people trust him this time? asks PCC president Kuldeep Rathore, predicting surprises in Himachal Pradesh.
The Congress's rally is going to be a milestone in the victory of the party and making of Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister of the country. Modi magic is not going to work. He has pushed the country to the worst crisis, said Rathore.
The BJP this time has replaced its sitting MPs Shanta Kumar and Virender Kashap in Kangra and Shimla (Reserve) respectively but retained three-time MP Anurag Thakur in Hamirpur and Ram Swaroop Sharma in Mandi.
Though Sharma is facing a tough battle against Congress's new face Ashray Sharma, who is the grandson of former telecom minister Sukh Ram, he has banked completely on Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who hails from Mandi.
Being first-time Chief Minister and having no old legacies like corruption, dynasty politics or bad political record, Thakur finds conditions congenial to maintain his leadership graph. The BJP had come to power in 2017 and has no loss of grounds to the Congress which is factional ridden.
Congress's veteran Virbhadra Singh, a six-time minister, was only star campaigner for the party. But his occasional attacks against his own party leaders and praises for the Chief Minister put the party in a quite embarrassing position.
Says, Thakur, "People of Himachal Pradesh know Modi as a strong leader. They have realised that there can't be the development of the country without security. After Balakot airstrike, the situation has changed a lot. There is a leader in the Congress, who had asked for a body count of militants killed in Balakot. Isn't an insult of our brave soldiers?
It was the first election in state when BJP stalwarts like Shanta Kumar, JP Nadda, Prem Kumar Dhumal had roles confined to their native constituencies after a generational change in the party had brought Jai Ram Thakur in a dominating role. Same was also the case with Virbhadra Singh.