The high-octane campaign for Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections marked by aggressive verbal exchanges between the two contenders for power–the state’s ruling Congress and main opposition BJP–ended on Tuesday.
Though the BJP announced Prem Kumar Dhumal as its chief ministerial face just a week ago, the saffron party’s campaign was virtually spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who criticised the Congress over corruption, while Rahul Gandhi mounted a counteroffensive, targeting the Centre over note ban and the GST.
BJP president and its master strategist Amit Shah, besides a host of Union ministers and top leaders from both sides criss-crossed the state.
The 73-year-old Dhumal, a two-term chief minister, is seeking to thwart the Congress’s chief ministerial candidate Virbhadra Singh’s record seventh shot at power.
Singh, 83, the tallest Congress leader in the state, is facing graft cases and is locked in a bitter feud with state Congress chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu whose ouster he sought but failed to ensure ahead of the elections.
The old Congress warhorse also has to contend with the possible anti-incumbency.
Internal squabble may cast a shadow on the Congress’s chances of storming back to power despite the party reposing faith in Singh to bail it out at a time when it has been facing a string of electoral reverses.
There are 337 candidates left in the field after the death of a candidate in Badsar constituency while a BJP rebel in Chamba retired in favour of the party candidate.
Significantly, Himachal Pradesh goes to polls a day after the first anniversary of the Centre’s demonetisation decision. While the Congress and some other opposition parties are observing November 8 as ‘black day’, the BJP had declared it would celebrate it as ‘anti-black money day’.
Leader of opposition Dhumal is pitted against Rajinder Rana (Congress) in a five-cornered fight in Sujanpur.
Virbhadra Singh’s son Vikramaditya Singh is making his electoral debut from Shimla (Rural) constituency where he is facing a stiff challenge from Pramod Sharma, a former protege of his father now contesting as the BJP nominee.
Another contest that would be keenly watched is for the Mandi seat where former Union minister Sukhram’s son Anil Sharma is contesting as the BJP candidate. Anil Sharma quit the Congress in the run up to the elections.
State BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti is facing Satpal Singh Raizada of the Congress in a five-cornered contest in Una, while state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukkhu is pitted against sitting BJP MLA Vijay Agnihotri in a six-way fight in Nadaun.
About a dozen rebels of both the parties are also in the fray, trying to spoil the chances of official nominees.
The counting of votes would be taken up on December 18.
The Congress and BJP are contesting all 68 seats, CPI(M) has fielded 14 candidates while 187 candidates of small parties and independents are also in the fray.
(With inputs from PTI)