Himachal Pradesh has witnessed a bumper 75.6 per cent voting in the November 12 assembly elections. The female-voter turnout was also 4.5 per cent higher than male voters. The upward poll trend is bound to bring in few surprises in the state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making a serious bid to power under its slogan “riwaaz badlega” and the Congress is eyeing to form the next government. Even before the results, the chief ministerial race in the Congress has become hot. Most contenders are already in Delhi, lobbying hard with top leaders. On the other hand, there's Mandi MP and State Congress President Pratibha Singh, wife of six-time Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh, who is unfazed but the rat race, and even claims she's "not an ambitious person". But to overlook her would be a mistake as she points out, "when the high command and Sonia ji (Sonia Gandhi) gave me a ticket for the Mandi Parliamentary by-election (that I won) and thereafter decided to appoint me as PCC president for leading the party to the polls, they definitely must have taken into account many factors". Edited excerpts:
What is your assessment of the poll results in Himachal Pradesh?
Congress will form the next government. It's going to be a decisive verdict.
How do you interpret a record poll turnout this time?
The people have largely voted for Congress. All sections of society are angry with the BJP. Be it employees, pensioners, youths, farmers, apple growers, women, and in particular homemakers. Everyone is unhappy.
Analysts predict a ‘neck-to-neck’ fight between BJP and Congress.
As a person on the ground, who campaigned in every single constituency, and addressed several back-to-back rallies, I can safely say we are getting a clear majority. I can tell you—Riwaaz nahi, raj badlega.
You seem to be more than confident about an impending change.
Yes, I am. There are reasons for it and history also. No incumbent government has come back to power in Himachal Pradesh in the past 37 years. That’s not the only factor in our favour. The BJP government has failed on all fronts. Corruption, scams in police constables’ recruitment, inflation, and joblessness. This Agniveer scheme, especially, has come as a big blow to youths aspiring to join the Indian army.
Which is the biggest poll issue that turned the tables on the BJP in Himachal?
The Old Pension Scheme (OPS) is the biggest issue because we have a large number of people in government jobs. So, we have promised the restoration of OPS.
BJP says Congress has befooled the employees on OPS, and that it cannot be implemented without the
The election results will tell who has been fooling the people. Our two governments, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, have already implemented it. We have told our employees that a decision on OPS will be taken in the first cabinet meeting of the new government.
What do you make of the high female-voter turnout?
Very encouraging. It will be in our favour because of two reasons. Women are the most affected by inflation. Plus, Congress has promised to give Rs 1,500 per month to women has an overall positive impact.
Do you feel Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a factor in the poll?
What has Modi ji given to the state in these eight years? The state’s debt must have amounted to Rs 80,000 crore. He calls the state his second home but gives nothing. What's the use of the so-called double engine? We are thankful to Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for their support to the many projects that Virbhadra Singh ji approached them.
Did you miss Virbhadra Singh ji in the poll?
Of course. I miss him a lot. If he was alive today, the poll would have been totally one-sided. His death was a big loss for the Congress party and to me as well. The way he used to organise things, lead the campaign and get connected to the people, was amazing. I thank the people of the state, who love him so much. This Congress victory will be a tribute to him. He lives in our hearts.
The party has not named its chief ministerial candidate. How will you resolve this issue if Congress gets a majority?
AICC will take a call on it once the results are out on December 8. They cannot ignore the will of the elected MLAs. After all, the high command, I am very sure, will respect the collective wishes of the MLAs.
Are you a contender for the CM's post?
I am not an ambitious person. But when the high command and Sonia ji (Sonia Gandhi) gave me a ticket for the Mandi Parliamentary by-election (that I won) and thereafter decided to appoint me as PCC president for leading the party to the polls, they definitely must have taken into account many factors.
What model of governance will the party offer in the state?
We propose to provide an efficient, transparent and responsive government. We will try to cut down on wasteful spending. Efforts will be made to raise state resources. Tourism is one sector that will give priority to boosting the economy. It will generate hundreds of job avenues. Basically, we will offer the Virbhadra Singh model of governance committed to all-round development.
The state is largely dependent on the Centre for financial support and help. If Congress forms the government, won’t there be problems?
We will fight for our fights. The Centre has a duty to support the states irrespective of the party in power. That’s the beauty of our federal system. The state is bound to get its rightful claims from the Centre.
What if the BJP returns to power?
No chance. Congress is coming to power. But we fear the BJP will resort to horse trading, which will not work out this time.