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MC polls: BJP’s performance warrants a ‘Wake-up call’ for CM and state President

K S Tomar

K S Tomar

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MC polls outcome may act as a morale booster to Congress party

For the ruling BJP, the message of urban voters in municipal corporation elections is a warning of sorts as all the BJP’s strategists, poll-specialists, it’s feared election fighting machinery and an assortment of sops to the electorate etc. failed to overcome anti-incumbency in four corporations in the state where Congress revived self which may inject a new zeal besides acting as a morale booster especially after facing the humiliating defeats in Nov, 2017 assembly elections,2019 parliamentary polls and two by-polls held during this span of three years.

polls

For sure, the humiliating defeat in Palampur municipal corporation and failure to muster a simple majority in Dharamshala corporation in Kangra district in the party national president’s home state, and is the reality check that the BJP can ill afford to ignore in its ongoing campaign to rid India of the Congress party.

Challenging the BJP’s “Congress-Mukht Bharat” campaign, the oldest national political party keeps reminding the nation of its history and prowess to bounce back, now and then.

Though these are purely localized polls, often fought by regional personalities on their own strength, the results do indicate which way the wind is blowing.

For the BJP poll strategists plotting ‘Mission Repeat’ in the 2022 assembly elections are a wake-up call they cannot ignore, because of what can be described as diminishing returns of their high-pitched election campaign.

Jai Ram Thakur, Chief Minister, Himachal Pradesh
Jai Ram Thakur, CM, Himachal Pradesh

The ruling party, here in Himachal Pradesh is welcome to its ostrich-like policy and living in denial but this does not change the situation on the ground, unless the party gets the state government to step up its governance delivery mechanism.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur can heave a sigh of relief that in his backyard of Mandi district the party did well, but the defeat in his adjoining Solan handled by state BJP president Suresh Kashyap should worry him.

Humiliating defeat in Palampur and failure to win a simple majority in Dharamshala are worrisome pointers to the party high command as it prepares for its campaign to retain the state in next year’s assembly elections.

Defeat in Kangra, the gateway to power in HP with 15 MLAs comes as a timely warning to the leadership that has its internal dynamics to be worried about too.

Shanta Kumar
Shanta Kumar, former CM

Palampur results are a definite setback to former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar, and an embarrassment to the party that knows its local units are plagued by internal dissent, differences, and groups.

Things have not getting any better on this score since the time of former party president Satpal Satti, the denials to the contrary from the party leadership and the Chief Minister notwithstanding.

On the administrative front, weakness in the approach of the Chief Minister is much in evidence.

Old-timers here compare it with the rule of Virbhadra Singh whose over-dependence on bureaucracy – a coterie of IAS officers — cost him the elections, and paved the way for the return of the BJP.

Virbhadra Singh

If the coterie of senior officials damaged the image of Virbhadra Singh, a group of inexperienced advisors drawn from the RSS are causing enough problems for the government as they are unable to deal with the bureaucracy(an identical Coterie).

Notwithstanding BJP’S overall skill and mastery of winning polls with the guidance as well as support of Rashtriya Swayam Sangh and several advantages in current municipal corporation elections like huge resources, blatant misuse of administration like any ruling party in India, well-oiled machinery of Sangh, a flurry of announcements made by the chief minister to woo voters and campaigning by legislators and ministers, the outcome of these polls should serve the party as a ‘WAKE UP CALL’ to fulfill its unrealistic dream of ‘MISSION REPEAT’ in 2022 assembly elections.

Thakur and Kashyap duo had made untiring claims in mafia about party’s tremendous victory in Panchayati Raj Elections though there was no authentic apparatus available to cross-check the truth because these polls were not fought on party symbols.

But now cat is out of its bag which will belie any false claim as a strong ruling BJP could register a clear victory in chief minister, Jai Ram Thakur’s home district of Mandi only that will act as a ‘Saviour’ to him.

s
Suresh Kashyap

But Suresh Kashyap, state party president could not save the prestige of his party in his adjoining SOLAN district where congress has performed well. Now both guns have fallen silent and there is no claim about resounding performance of party corporation polls based on the stellar and cosmological performance of three years of government?

All eyes were on outcome of Dharamshala and Palampur corporations in Kangra district which might have upset BJP leadership right up to Delhi, being national president’s home state, as humiliating defeat in Palampur and failure to win even a simple majority in Dharamshala should worry the BJP high command.

It is an established fact that Kangra, being the biggest district with 15 legislators, practically acts as ‘A GATEWAY TO POWER’ and there is nothing for the ruling party to ‘REJOICE’ as barely over one and half years are left for assembly polls which is inclusive of one year consumed by preparations.

Palampur results are set back to the former chief minister, Shanta Kumar who had solely influenced chief minister to create corporation but clean sweep by congress must embarrass and disturb him also besides party as Kangra is plagued by internal dissensions which started during former president Satpal Satti’s tenure and continues till date despite baseless denials by the state party in charge, Avinash Rai Khanna, Chief minister, state party chief, senior leaders.

Imagine about one striking factor I.e., BJP miserably failed to decimate its opponent, Congress which has been dubbed as a weak organization by CM, Kashyap, etc and factionalism still persists in it besides lack of resources and motivated party cadres like the ruling party.

Analysts say that Mandi corporation victory and hundred percent chances of manipulation to purchase one independent or congress counselor to elect Mayor and deputy Mayor in Dharamshala may avert Uttarakhand type coup in Himachal but now onwards chief minister may be seen with ‘suspicion’ to ensure victory in ensuing assembly polls which may be compounded owing to negativity and unwillingness of Bureaucracy which is acting as a stumbling block because the chief minister lacks a grip over it.

Prem Kumar Dhumal

Laxity to deal with Unwilling Bureaucrats with iron hand has made administration miserable and it can be compared with fag end of former chief minister, Virbhadra Singh’s regime which was run by a coterie of IAS officers led by the ex-chef secretary and final result of 2017 polls was the end result.

Political advisors also opine that RSS advisors appointed by the chief minister have also proved novice as they do not have experience of administration and tactics to deal with strong bureaucracy which seems to be bent upon to let down the present government.

One striking feature of SOLAN corporation result shows that Congress in charge and MLA, Rajender Rana has lived up with his reputation as a giant killer which was witnessed in Sujanpur constituency when he surprised everyone by inflicting defeat on would be chief minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal and now he has done it in Solan though dimension is not that high, it matters too much for the Congress in old areas to give a proper signal about future projection in 2022 assembly polls.

Bindal rajiv
Dr Rajiv Bindal

On the contrary, former speaker, Rajiv Bindal, a clever and delivery-oriented leader has been exposed in his hometown SOLAN and defeat might indirectly please the chief minister who may not be unhappy over setbacks suffered by his political rival?

Observers are constrained to give credit to AICC secretary and in charge of Himachal congress for his skill of management and controlling the inflated egos of factional leaders who were utilized as per their potential in these elections.

Shukla had made it clear after taking over his assignment that he will not be guided by one faction hence he formulated his strategy in a manner which focused on 2022 assembly polls to defeat BJP.

But the chief minister has definitely given a big setback to former union minister, Sukh Ran and his son, rebel MLA, Anil Sharma in their bastion by inflicting ting the wounds of defeat which is not good for the Congress party.

Political observers feel that local issues dominated these polls and the Anti-Incumbency factor did have its impact on the psyche of the voters. BJP had deputed ministers, MLAs, etc as in charges and coordinators but it did not have much impact on electorates who did not feel comfortable with outsiders.

But Mohinder Singh, irrigation minister was lucky to be made in charge of Mandi corporation who delivered as he did in Pachhad by-poll last year.

Rajender Rana, Congress MLA along with the former minister, Col Dhani Ram Shandil adopted a strategy which targeted the BJP government on water crisis and other issues in Solan corporation polls.

Congress legislature leader, Mukesh Agnrihotri, Kaul Singh Thakur, Asha Kumari, Ram Lal Thakur etc worked in tandem with sitting MLA, Ashish Butail in Palampur who was the sole hero of this victory. Congress party’s clean sweep could be attributed to Ashish Butail’s father who still enjoys the goodwill and support of local people.

Rebels played Spoilsport for BJP as well as Congress which damaged the chances of several official candidates in all four corporations.

Observers believe that the Chief Minister needs to go for introspection for this downfall because BJP had all advantages to sweep the polls but it did not happen.

On the contrary, had BJP won handsomely then there would have been a media campaign and claims about the approval and high-level performance of the three-year rule of BJP in the state which has unfortunately ended in a fiasco.

The Chief Minister, however, blamed Congress for misinformation campaigns about taxes and the like, which led to defeat in two corporations. Thakur has claimed that results of Nagar Panchayats of Kullu, Anni, Nirmand, and Kandaghat have gone in BJP’s favor though these polls were not fought on symbols .

Rajiv Shukla with others

But Congress in-charge Rajiv Shukla feels that victory has been snatched from the jawans of the ruling party which misused official machinery and muscle power as well, and money to bribe voters who rejected these allegations.

Shukla is confident of throwing BJP out of power in 2022 assembly polls as Congress workers are now fully charged up with new energy and the current defeat of BJP will act as a big morale booster to Congress party cadres and leaders who were lying low after successive defeats.

As per Shukla, the Jai Ram government has failed to deliver and BJP defeat is evidence of non-performance of state government, lack of grip of the chief minister over bureaucracy which had acted against previous Congress regime also.

polls
Avinash Rai Khanna

Contrary to it, BJP had guidance of senior RSS and party incharge, Avinash Rai Khanna who tried to streamline the functioning and finalized strategy to win corporation polls but results did not match his expectations. He could not check the party rebels who damaged official nominees at various places. RSS leader favours serious introspection as loss in SOLAN and Palampur besides failure to win even a simple majority Dharamshala which cannot be taken lightly.

BJP had won this assembly segment’s bypoll in 2019 by a good margin of 6,758 in Oct ,2019 votes but something has gone wrong if ruling party could not win simple majority after a gap of one and half years which may further decline as people expectations will rise with the passage of time and assembly elections are not a far away? Khanna has got a big challenge at hand to ensure better performance of the government which needs to create better impact on people besides checking Infighting in the party .

Panchayats and local bodies polls were held under the shadow of Covid 19 pandemic which was witnessed during municipal corporations’ elections also and there was no lack of enthusiasm amongst the leaders, workers and electorates who Violated the norms with Impunity.

What Went Wrong And In Favour Of Congress In Four Corporations?

1. MANDI MUNICIPAL CORPORATION.

Analysts feel that Congress made it Sukh Ram versus Jai Ram Thakur which was a blunder and the former’s popularity may be on the wane as his political inning is already over though he does enjoy support in the district. At this juncture, former minister, Anil Sharma miserably failed to take a clear stand whether to stay in BJP to save his membership of Vidhan Sabha or join Congress which has made him ‘suspect’ even in his own constituency.

2. SOLAN

Congress was not perceived as capable of winning this corporation but strategy to exploit local issues and failures of government did pay rich dividends. Factional leaders were roped in to ensure the defeat of BJP and last-minute announcements by the chief minister did not convince the voters. Imagine, citizens were facing an acute shortage of water for months but ruling party leaders just ignored such a crisis and congress nominees made it an issue that clicked.

3. PALAMPUR

Congress party benefited most from the hold of Butail family and team deputed by party in charge Shukla which proved beneficial besides nursing done by sitting MLA, Ashish Butail which has elevated him in the estimation of high command. Congress has dealt a huge blow to BJP which was trying to take credit for last minute creation of corporation with the blessings of veteran leader, Shanta Kumar must be feeling embarrassed due to this setback to the party though he has already retired from active politics.

4. DHARAMSHALA

It is an established fact that Congressmen are at their Best when it comes to inflicting defeat on their own party candidates in elections. In this way, it was Congress Versus Congress in Dharamshala and the common target was AICC secretary and former MLA from this seat, Sudhir Sharma. Congress committed a blunder when the majority of the tickets were allotted to loyalists of Sudhir and former state president and in charge of this corporation, Sukhviner Singh Sukhu worked in tandem with him.

Anti-Sudhir group led by former Mayor Devinder Jaggi got minimum seats but his group’s success ratio was high whereas former minister’s loyalists faced defeat. Sudhir supporters allege that one of the former senior ministers, G.S. Bali and several leaders worked against party nominees to settle the score with their leader and the party in charge must hold an inquiry to ascertain the truth. Bali, however, denied this allegation as he was assigned to the Mandi Corporation though how much he worked there is a mystery?

What Were Blunders Committed By Bjp In These Corporations’ Polls?

1. MANDI

Chief Minister had twin advantages while he was pitted against Sukh Ram family in Mandi corporation polls.

FIRST, he latently projected it as a battle of prestige and defeat that could endanger his position.

2nd, being his home district, victory will send the right signal and loss could encourage his detractors to step up a campaign for a change of leadership and both factors worked to his party’s advantage.

Thirdly, he took it so seriously that four days were devoted in this segment and addressed corner meetings in every ward to neutralize the impact of the Sukh Ram family.

2. SOLAN

BJP was riding high from day one which preceded the appointment of Dr Rajiv Bindal as an in-charge of Solan who is well known for his management skill and planning. An artificial image and shallow media reports had been generated about impending victory to demoralize the congress but it proved blessings in disguise as complacency crept in the mind of ruling party cadres.

Congress highlighted local issues and skyrocketing prices etc which yielded positive results. Analysts feel that defeat of Bindal’s aura suited the chief minister politically hence internal dissensions in this party might have also worked to the advantage of congress.

3. PALAMPUR

Congress party benefited most from the hold of Butail family and team deputed by party in charge Shukla in consultation with state president, Kuldeep Rathore which proved beneficial besides nursing done by sitting MLA, Ashish Butail which has elevated him in the estimation of high command.

Congress has dealt a blow to BJP which was trying to take credit for last minute creation of corporation with the blessings of veteran leader, Shanta Kumar who must be feeling embarrassed due to this setback to the party though he has already retired from active politics.

4. DHARAMSHALA

There is nothing to celebrate for the BJP in this crucial corporation in the biggest district of the state, Kangra which decides the future politics of the state. It is surprising that BJP had won the by-poll of Dharamshala in October 2019 by a margin of 6,758 votes but now the same party miserably failed to get a simple majority which reflects on the poor performance of the government. Infighting in the party played its role despite denials as the entire district is in the grip of this menace which may prove suicidal in 2022 polls.

Finally, chief minister’s real test lies ahead as Mandi Lok Sabha poll has been necessitated due to the untimely demise of Ram Swaroop Sharma and BJP cannot afford to lose it because it will set the tone for ensuing assembly polls especially when this seat has got 17 segments spread over in six districts including Mandi, Kullu, Chamba, Kinnair Shimla and Lahaul Spiti.

Prior to this, CM and party chief will be under compulsion to win Fatehpur constituency in Kangra district which has fallen vacant following the death of former Congress minister, Sujan Singh Pathania. The victory will send the right signal in this biggest district but defeat will add to the discomfort and woes of leaders and party cadres suffered in recent corporation polls.

Also Read: People bent on committing hara-kiri with leaders egging them on!

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K S Tomar

K S Tomar

The writer, a senior political analyst, is a former Editor of the Hindustan Times' Rajasthan edition and has spent nearly four decades in journalism, including a six year stint in Nepal where he covered Sino-India-Nepal complex relationship and had a ringside seat to the Himalayan Kingdom's transition into democracy.

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