Shimla: Just hours before the Shimla Municipal Corporation voting on Tuesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has chosen to play its biggest card against the four-month-old Congress government, forecasting its collapse over the next few months.
“The Congress has done the biggest sin with the people of the state to get back to power. It had rolled-out 10-guarantees– biggest of these — Old Pension Scheme (OPS), Rs 1500 pension of all women in the age group of 18 to 60 years, five lakh jobs and 300 units of free power. Not a single has been fulfilled” declares former Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who was on the campaign trail for the past 10 days. Thakur seems to have taken upon himself a task to see that the Congress, even if it manages to win the Municipal Corporation poll in Shimla—which the BJP had captured in 2017, the Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu government will not last its full term.
The campaign ended on Sunday and all is set for voting on Tuesday for the 34 -member House. The elections are being held on party symbols.
However, the real issues pertaining to the civic problems of Shimla have taken a back-seat in the polls as both the Congress and BJP are preparing for the upcoming electoral showdown in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Most BJP hoardings have photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and large development projects—like ‘Smart City’ initiatives and Rs 1,318 crore Shimla water supply project are seen in the town.
Fifty percent of seats are reserved for women. The BJP has fielded a record 24 women candidates, the highest ever in any poll at 60 per cent. The Congress has fielded 18 women for 34 wards.
Shimla Municipal Corporation, which happens to be one of the oldest municipality in the country, established in 1851 by the Britishers –when Shimla used to be Summer capital of India, had traditionally remained a fortress of the Congress but in 2012 the Communist Party of India (CPM) surprised everyone by cuasing an upset and winning the post of Mayor and Deputy.
Then the BJP defeated the Congress in 2017 as the majority of councilors backed by the party got elected. That was a year when the Congress was facing a massive anti-incumbency under then Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and BJP also won 44 assembly seats in 68-member House and formed its government under Jai Ram Thakur.
Sukhu, who was the party’s star campaigner in the Municipal Corporation poll, faces a crucial test as a Congress leader as he is expected to enable the party to avenge its two successive defeats in 2012 and 2017 Municipality polls at the state capital, known as mini-Himachal.
During the 2022 poll, the Congress had no Chief Ministerial face thus the party’s return to power, is attributed to joint leadership with two other key players—Mukesh Agnihotri (now Deputy Chief Minister in the government) and PCC president Pratibha Singh having played a crucial part. She is wife of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.
Now it’s Sukhu , who will see his emergence as the main leader if the Congress wins the Municipal polls and gets its Mayor and Deputy Mayor. He himself had remained councilor twice to begin his career in the 1990s.
“The Congress has fulfilled its major promise of OPS and started the process to fulfill rest of the promises including Rs 1500 pension to women. Since the promises have been made for five years, the BJP should not worry,” Sukhu told the voters as he talks of ‘ Vyavastha Parivartan’ in governance.
But, the BJP—which recently replaced its state party President Suresh Chandel, a sitting MP with Dr Rajeev Bindal, one of its party seniors and former minister, is predicting that the Congress government will soon collapse due to growing disillusionment among the people over failed promises, and also discontentment within the MLAs and cabinet.