|Shimla deputy mayor Tikender Panwar who is contesting the election from the Shimla (urban) seat
Shimla, Nov. 2: Trudging on foot across the apple-growing regions of the Theog Assembly segment, CPM candidate Rakesh Singha strives to explain to voters that the “neo- liberal” policies of the Congress at the Centre and the BJP in the state are responsible for all their woes.
He tries to persuade them to choose the “third alternative” — a coalition of the Left and the Himachal Lokhit Party, floated by BJP rebels.
When a woman complains that the government school in the area hardly functions, Singha tells her: “Close down government schools and promote private schools — this is the result of the neo-liberal policies. Both the Congress and the BJP are following this policy. You have to defeat them.”
In the same constituency, Trinamul Congress candidate Pramod Kumar, a lecturer-turned-politician, too is riding a similar plank, asking voters to reject the BJP, the Congress and the CPM and choose the “new alternative”.
“You have seen them all: the BJP, the Congress and even the CPM. They are all old. Vote for change,” Kumar says, underlining how Theog is still struggling for drinking water, roads, schools and hospitals.
Asked how the Trinamul’s “alternative” is different from the CPM’s, he laughs and says all the others are “old”.
In Himachal, Bengal rivals CPM and Trinamul are trying to turn the predominantly bipolar contest between the BJP and the Congress into a triangular one.
The CPM is particularly excited after having pulled off a coup by winning the posts of Shimla’s mayor and deputy mayor in the first-ever direct elections to these offices. The party now feels it can spring a similar surprise by bagging a few Assembly seats and positioning itself as a kingmaker.
The candidates are also using the Himachal elections to further the party’s ideological line against “neo-liberal” policies and, more significantly, to test the idea of a “third alternative”.
Along with the CPI, which has a very limited presence in the state, the CPM has struck an alliance with the Himachal Lokhit Party floated by BJP rebel and four-time MP Maheshwar Singh. The coalition has put up candidates in all the state’s 68 seats, with the CPM contesting 16.
The recent corruption charges against the Congress and the BJP, levelled by social activists, have perked up the Marxists. They believe the people are fed up and will choose an alternative as they did in the civic elections.
Although the party has officially avoided any mention of a third front since burning its fingers in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, it is testing the waters in Himachal before trying something similar at the national level.
“There is no difference between the BJP and the Congress. Reject them the way you did in the mayor’s election,” CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury told a Shimla rally in support of party candidate Tikender Panwar, the deputy mayor.
Panwar is contesting the Shimla (urban) seat, looking to repeat his civic election performance. Shimla’s voters, however, wonder why their “comrade” wants to give up his civic responsibilities and become an MLA.
“He is a very good person. We want him to perform as our deputy mayor first and then strive to become an MLA,” said Radheshyam Sharma, a tea stall owner.
While the CPM is banking on its strong base among hotel workers and students, Trinamul is using TV and radio advertisements to try and spread its base in north India.
The TV ads focus extensively on Trinamul Rajya Sabha member K.D. Singh. The industrialist-politician is using the polls to project himself as a significant leader in northern India.
The party’s hopes of unleashing its MPs and Mamata Banerjee in the state were dashed after it handed its list of campaigners to the election authorities a day after the last date. With no significant leader to campaign for them, the candidates have to strive on their own.
“I don’t need leaders from Bengal. I am doing it on my own,” said Pramod Kumar. He had contested the last state elections as an Independent and came second. This time he hopes to win on the Trinamul symbol from Theog in Shimla district.
Apart from Theog, there are few places where Trinamul is in the race though the party is contesting 28 seats.
The CPM is believed to be in the running in some five seats, including Shimla (urban) and Theog, and hopes the party’s work in the state over the years will pay off.
On the whole, though, these “alternative” players do not seem to be more than fringe actors in an election being fought aggressively between the ruling BJP and the Congress.