August 15, 2020
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Congress Slides To Despair As BJP Scales Heights In Himachal, Uttarakhand

Lok Sabha Elections 2019 Analysis: Punjab saved Congress' face as BJP rode Narendra Modi's charisma in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana to take north India by the horns

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Congress Slides To Despair As BJP Scales Heights In Himachal, Uttarakhand
Congress Slides To Despair As BJP Scales Heights In Himachal, Uttarakhand

The hills of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are still alive with the chants of Modi. The saffron mist hasn’t left the Jatlands of Haryana though the plains of Punjab ducked the clear pattern that swept much of India, on May 23, as the Lok Sabha polls, once again, brought the BJP to power at the Centre.  

The four Lok Sabha constituencies of Himachal and the five in Uttarakhand, which had elected BJP MPs in 2014, have reposed faith in Narendra Modi once again, decimating the Congress by massive margins and increasing the BJP’s voteshare substantially. In Haryana, where politics has been identified by the dynasties of Devi Lal, Bhajan Lal, Bansi Lal and the Hoodas, the vote was clearly against the ‘naamdaars’. Dynasts from each of these families fielded by the Congress, Indian National Lok Dal (JJP) and its rebel faction, the Jananayak Janata Party (JJP), crashed without a trace in front of BJP rivals who had no legacy to boast of but were the means to a larger end­—the return of Modi.

In Himachal, once a Congress bastion, the BJP’s victory margins showed the lotus may not wilt here anytime soon. BJP candidates, with the exception of Anurag Thakur, son of former chief minister P. K. Dhumal and once again the victor from Hamirpur, can’t boast of any political appeal. Yet, BJP nominees, Kishan Kapoor, Ram Swaroop Sharma and Suresh Kashyap won Kangra, Mandi and Shimla respectively. Though Ram Swaroop had won Mandi in 2014 too, his victory is of greater significance this time as he defeated Aashray Sharma, grandson of former Union minister Sukh Ram, whose family has never lost an election from here in the past five decades.

The Congress’s decline has continued in Uttarakhand. That the Modi factor worked brilliantly for his party here can be gauged from the fact that open rebellion by two of the party’s former chief ministers, B. S. Koshyari and B.C. Khanduri, outgoing MPs from the Nainital and Garhwal constituencies, did not dent the BJP’s fortunes. Congress leader and former chief minister Harish Rawat lost the Nainital seat to BJP’s Ajay Bhatt by nearly 3.40 lakh votes while Khanduri’s son, Manish Khanduri, contested in Garhwal as a Congress nominee and lost to the BJP’s Tirath Rawat by over 3 lakh votes.

The drubbing in Uttarakhand and Himachal aside, the Congress faced massive humiliation in Haryana where it had gone all out to reclaim lost ground. It fielded heavyweights like former chief minister Bhupinder Hooda (Sonipat), his son and outgoing MP Deepinder Hooda (Rohtak), former Union minister Kumari Selja (Ambala), Avtar Bhadana (Faridabad), Ajay Yadav (Gurgaon) and Nirmal Singh (Kurukshetra). All lost.

“It is a big victory for us. This shows that there is a strong pro-incumbency. The credit for this victory goes to PM Modi...and pro-people policies.”
M.L. Khattar. Haryana CM

For the Hooda duo, a win was necessary to refurbish their image as undisputed leaders of the state’s 27 per cent Jat population. The BJP’s strategy of fielding Brahmin nominees in Sonipat and Rohtak helped the party consolidate the non-Jat votes while the Jats split between the Congress and the JJP. The other eight Congress candidates lost too, as the BJP swept Haryana. Manohar Lal Khattar, the first Punjabi chief minister of Haryana, couldn’t help but boast that his BJP had not just won the state’s 10 seats but also the Chandigarh constituency. With assembly elections due later this year, Khattar would be hoping that the surge will sustain.

It was only Punjab that the Congress could draw some solace from in northern India. With a strong satrap in chief minister Amarinder Singh micro-managing its campaign, the Congress won eight of the state’s 13 Lok Sabha seats.

Sunny Deol, Harsimrat Kaur, Manish Tewari, Bhagwant Mann—the big winners

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was practically wiped out while ally BJP, which contested just three seats, won two —actor Sunny Deol from Gurdaspur against Congress heavyweight Sunil Jakhar and Som Prakash from Hoshiarpur. The only setback for the BJP here was the defeat of Union minister Hardeep Puri against Congress’s G.S. Aujla in Amritsar.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal and her husband Sukhbir Badal, inheritors of the legacy of Parkash Singh Badal, the SAD supremo, were the only Akali winners from Bhatinda and Firozpur. The AAP, which had stunned political observers in 2014 by wresting four seats in Punjab, managed to win just one—Bhagwant Mann in Sangrur.

With every reason to cheer, chief minister Singh, who deftly steered his Congress away from the post-Balakot euphoria for the BJP in this state that is a rich recruiting ground for militray said, “people of Punjab had responded to the state government’s development and welfare programmes.”

By Jyotika Sood with Puneet Nicholas Yadav

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