Chandigarh, March 1: The Congress today bagged 40 of the 65 constituencies that went to polls in Himachal Pradesh, routing the BJP and breaking the Hindutva wave. The saffron party could garner only 16 seats.
The march of the Congress to victory was led by leader of the Opposition Veerbhadra Singh and state party chief Vidya Stokes, who won from Rohru and Kumarsain, respectively.
The crushing defeat has sent the BJP back to the dissecting table. “We have to analyse why we lost. The results have come as a surprise as we had picked up substantially during the last two weeks of campaigning,” said outgoing chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. “We will also look into the role of rebels in the fray. I do not think there was an anti-incumbency wave against me personally, as my government had undertaken a large number of development projects. But the results have been shocking,” he added.
But the BJP’s downfall had been evident as early as December-January in a party survey. It predicted that the BJP would find it difficult to retain even 15 to 20 seats.
“We worked hard to prove the central party’s survey wrong. But this is a stunning defeat,” a senior BJP leader said.
Apart from anti-incumbency, charges of corruption, particularly the ones levelled by Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh at Dhumal, and rebels in the fray, the factor that played a decisive role in the BJP’s rout was the role of women.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s rallies drew thousands of women out of their houses. They flocked to her rallies not to gape at her but to listen to what she had to say. Unlike Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who brought up the Ram temple and other saffron pet issues, Sonia stuck to development, unemployment, the job scam in Dhumal’s Hamirpur district and corruption.
She won people’s hearts by breaking the security cordon and interacting with the crowd in many places. While Vajpayee waved from a safe distance, Sonia ensured that she got close to them and answer the questions they asked.
The BJP had pressed in Hindutva hero Narendra Modi to boost the campaign, but his Gujarat tactics — raising the bogey of “Mian Musharraf” and harping on national security — did not work in Himachal. He was even booed at Mattansiddh. If people had jobs, the nation’s security would never be at risk, Sonia had told the Himachalis. And they believed her.
Apart from making organisational changes, the BJP will examine the failure of the campaign committee to play up the return of shamlat (panchayat) land taken away by the government in 1974, party sources said. “We will be also watching the Congress closely, especially the growing chasm between party chief Vidya Stokes and former chief minister Veerbhadra Singh,” a BJP leader said.
Indeed, winning could prove easier for the Congress than choosing a chief minister. The two factions have been divided even in victory with both Stokes and Veerbhadra publicly stating that they are in the race.
“I cannot say anything at the moment. That is for the newly-elected legislators to decide. If they do not come to a conclusion, the high command will step in and name the chief minister,” Stokes said.
Veerbhadra, on the other hand, was confident of getting the post, saying he had the experience of running a government. “But it is too early now to discuss the chief ministership issue,” he added.
“The Congress could split either way. They will have to make someone other than Stokes or Veerbhadra chief minister if they want to keep the flock together,” Dhumal said.
, making it evident that the BJP would stoke dissidence in the Congress.