Himachal Pradesh Picks 'Riwaj' Over Modi Magic As Congress Stages Impressive Comeback

The BJP's 'Riwaz Badal Denge' campaign seems to have backfired in Himachal Pradesh where Congress is looking at a sweeping victory, thanks to the party's promise to restore OPS and BJP's rebel crisis.

Congress set for a sweeping comeback in Himachal Pradesh where counting of voters is underway

Fighting a neck-to-neck battle with the incumbent BJP, Congress is set to register an impressive win in Himachal Pradesh, keeping the state's 37-year-old tradition of alternating between the incumbent and Opposition parties intact.

On Thursday, the Congress had registered a lead on 40 seats while the BJP was stuck at 25, as per preliminary trends at the time of writing. Three independents, all BJP rebels, were also in the reckoning. This shows that Congress has already exceeded the majority mark.

The BJP had given the slogan of ‘Riwaaz badalenge’ (we will change the custom) which the Congress has successfully turned on its head. As pe rthe party now, which is already in a celebratory mood, "Riwaaz Jari Hai" (Tradition continues)

The trends, so far, indicate that Congress will get a comfortable majority in the 68-member House. The victory is significant nationally in view of the party's humiliating defeat in Gujarat and the major electoral setbacks that the party suffered in this year’s assembly polls in UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.

This is the first time when the Congress has won any election after the 2018 Assembly Polls in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh.

Quite an important aspect of the victory also remains that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi campaigned in the state. The party poll managers roped in Priyanka Gandhi, AICC general secretary who addressed six poll rallies.

The elections in Himachal Pradesh being held after the demise of party stalwart Virbhadra Singh, a six-time Chief Minister, has come as a booster dose for the Congress cadres in the state which is seems to be seeking new leadership to lead the new government.

Three faces of the Congress – Pratibha Singh, wife of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, a former PCC president and Mukesh Agnihotri, leader of the opposition, have been the focus of the electorates voting for the change.

The Congress did not project any Chief Ministerial candidate in the election to avoid factionalism and this experiment has indeed come to its advantage of the party, which was heavily relying on the state's five-year formula.

Much of the take-off of the Congress comes from the party's victory in the 2021 by-polls from three assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat at Mandi—Chief Minister Jairam Thakur home district.

Pratibha Singh, who had contested the election within four months after the death of Virbhadra Singh, won the seat giving a big jolt to the ruling BJP. This gave hope to Congress about making it to power finally.

Much of the credit to put the Congress on the front foot also goes to Mukesh Agnihotri—a four-time MLA and staunch lieutenant of Virbhadra Singh who led most attacks on the ruling BJP, within the state assembly and outside.

The issue of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) came as the icing on the cake for Congress to pin down the BJP because government employees form a major chunk of the vote bank.

“This is one of the 10 guarantees the party has made with the people in the poll manifesto. The OPS will be restored in the first cabinet meeting of the new government,” Agnihotri, who is also a Chief Ministerial post aspirant along with PCC president Pratibha Singh and Sukhwinder Sukhu, said.

Asked about major issues in the poll, Pratibha Singh said “we fought the election on local issues. Inflation, unemployment, OPS, and non-performance of the Jai Ram Thakur government were key factors. Our promise to give Rs 1,500 per month to women in the age group of 18 to 65 had an impact. Himachal Pradesh saw a good turn-out of women, almost 4.5 percent more than male voters” she says.

Rebel candidates also caused considerable damage to the BJP's prospects, making it lose at least 8 to 9 assembly seats.

More than half a dozen cabinet ministers including seniors like Suresh Bhardwaj, whose constituency was shifted from Shimla to Kasumpti lost due to the anti-incumbency factor against them.

Among the major Congress losers is former minister Kaul Singh, who was also CM post aspirant.