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What poll victory brings with it for Virbhadra

Outcome of elections has its lessons for the vanquished and the victor. It enjoins on the vanquished to introspect, realistically identify its shortcomings and take corrective steps for regaining the lost ground. The victor has to avoid committing mistakes which had contributed to its opponent’s downfall. It is also imperative for it to consolidate its electoral gains through effective measures in political and governance arenas.

The context of the observations is the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections which have brought the Congress back into power after five years of BJP rule. Now that the Parliament elections are not far away, it is to be seen how the losers and the winners of the Assembly elections accomplish the aforementioned tasks Some of the main factors responsible for the BJP securing only 26 seats against the Congress’s 36 have been commented upon by the media. Briefly, these included rebellion in the BJP leading to the rebels forming Himachal Lokhit Party which dented the party’s support base; corruption and nepotism; poor governance; and, the land mafia’s money-minting activities. All these factors gave a fillip to the anti-incumbency sentiment.

Prem Kumar Dhumal has attributed wrong allotment of tickets and non-creation of new districts out of the state’s biggest 15-constituencies district of Kangra as the two main reasons for the party’s defeat. Dhumal’s contention about the two causes being mainly responsible for the defeat may be justified by his supporters. But it also implies a veiled attack on his bete noire former chief minister Shanta Kumar. By seeking creation of new districts out of Kangra, chief minister obviously wanted to weaken Shanta’s hold on his Kangra stronghold. The party’s central leadership, however, brought about a patch-up between the two adversaries leading to Dhumal dropping the move to split Kangra.

Dhumal made development agenda and ‘good governance’ his party’s main poll plank to seek its return to power. But the electorate rejected his claims. No doubt, development had picked up pace under Dhumal leading to the state’s earning titles of being the top performer in some sectors. But in certain crucial areas like infrastructure, particularly roads which are the mainstay of hill state’s economy, the situation had gone from bad to worse. Thus the chief minister’s usurping the entire credit of the state’s big developmental leap was half truth. His predecessor governments including those led by the Congress had also handsomely contributed to taking the state to the higher level of development.

As mentioned earlier, poor governance and corruption were among other the factors which played a key role in generating the anti-incumbency sentiment. The lapses in the government’s performance were partly due to the chief minister’s dependence on bureaucrats ignoring a section of important party functionaries in planning and implementing the government’s programmes. Even Shanta Kumar and some sections of the ruling party had publicly voiced their views against the government.

Criticism helps overcome shortcomings and moving ahead. Dhumal had, however, not taken sportingly when, long before the election process had started, the media pointed out poor state of governance and its lackluster performance. Later, ground level feedback and now the polls outcome have testified what the media had reported.

The BJP will now have the difficult task of restoring unity in the party. It may even have to persuade the rebels who had formed Himachal Lokhit Party but could secure only one state to rejoin the parent party. The coming period is going to be tough for some prominent BJP leaders including Dhumal. Cases of corruption based on the chargesheet the Congress had given to the Governor a year ago are bound to be filed by the government against them. On the Congress front, the expected has happened. Virbhadra Singh has staged a comeback with a bang. The CLP meeting held in Shimla on Saturday chose him as its leader. He will take over as Chief Minister for the sixth time beating his Punjab counter-part Akali supremo Parkash Singh Badal’s much-touted ‘five-time chief minister’ record. It has been an arduous climb to power for Virbhadra Singh. After being chargesheeted by a court for corruption as alleged in the infamous audio CD case he had to quit the Union cabinet.

His opponents in the faction-ridden state Congress also sharpened their attacks against him. But defying his 78 years he fought back. He is the party’s only leader having a state-wide mass base. A skillful tactician he, on the eve of the poll, mended his fences with his once bitter opponent and former cabinet colleague Vijay Singh Mankotia and opposition leader Vidya Stokes, his potential rival for CM post. The audio CD case has lost its sting. After the two witnesses having already denied their role, Mankotia, the man behind the case, has also taken a U-turn on his statement in the graft case against Virbhadra Singh.

After steering the party to the victory stand, Virbhadra Singh now enjoys the majority support in the newly elected 36-nmember CLP. This gave him the clout to even defy the central leadership in case it had denied him CM’s post. All these factors forced the party high command first to make him PCC chief and now to approve the CLP decision to elect him as its leader. There are four priority tasks Virbhadra Singh government now faces First. To consolidate the party’s electoral successes by ensuring unity in the party. Second.

To inject life into the state’s ruined financial health. Third. To pressurise the Centre to restore incentives for the industries. Fourth. To speed up the state’s development by paying special attention to improve the infrastructure sector. While strictly checking corruption, he will have to ensure that the government does not unleash the politics of vendetta against his political opponents. Now that the Parliament elections are not far away, the coming months will be a testing time both for the losers and the winners of Himachal Assembly elections. (IPA)
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