Rakesh Lohumi, Tribune News Service
Shimla, December 20. The Congress bounced back to power in the hill state winning 36 out of the total 68 seats, while the ruling BJP had to contend with 26. As expected, the Independents put up a good show to bag five seats. The BJP breakaway group Himachal Lokhit Party, which had floated the Third Front with the CPM and the CPI, could just muster a solitary seat.
The Congress, which had 23 members in the outgoing House, improved its tally by 13 seats, while the BJP’s score came down to 26 from 41. The margin of victory was not very big but it was a creditable performance by the Congress keeping in view the prevailing anti-party sentiment at the national level due to unfolding of various scams and measures like reduction in number of subsidised LPG cylinders.
The political aware electorate maintained the three-decade old tradition of voting out the incumbent government and gave a clear verdict in favour of the Congress throwing aside all the predictions of a hung House. The strong anti-incumbency factor against the Dhumal government more than neutralised the impact of national issues such as price rise, corruption and FDI on which the BJP was banking on.
While four out of 11 BJP ministers, Ramesh Dhwala, Krishan Kapoor, Narinder Bragta and Khimi Ram, were defeated, some prominent Congress leaders like former Speaker GR Musafir, former ministers Ram Lal Thakur, Rangila Ram Rao and Vijay Singh Mankotia and national mahila Congress chief Anita Verma also lost.
The prominent winners included Chief Minister PK Dhumal, state BJP Chief Satpal Satti, ministers Gulab Singh, Mohinder Singh, Ravinder Ravi, Jai Ram, ID Dhiman, Sarveen Chaudhary. PCC Chief Virbhadra Singh, CLP Leader Vidya Stokes, Kaul Singh, GS Bali and Asha Kumari, former Congress minister, and HLP president Maheshwar Singh also emerged victorious. Rajiv Bindal, who had to resign as Health Minister, also won.
The Dhumal-Shanta Kumar rift cost the party dearly as evident from the poor performance of the BJP in Kangra were the party could win only 3 out of 15 seats while Congress bagged 10, while the decision of the Congress high command to hand over the reins of the party to Virbhadra Singh at the last minute helped the party win despite intense factionalism.
While the BJP lost out in its traditional stronghold of Kangra, made deep inroads into the Congress-dominated old Himachal Sirmour, bagging 4 out of 5 seats, and Chamba (3 out of 5 seats). The Congress did well in Shimla, the home district of PCC Chief Virbhadra Singh and CLP Leader Vidya Stokes, winning 6 out of 8 seats and the BJP securing just 1.
The two parties shared the honours in Mandi securing 5 seats each, while Congress fared well in the Kullu district, where it failed to open its account in 2007, winning 2 out of 4 seats and the BJP had to contend with one seat. HLP president Maheshwar Singh won the Kullu seat.