What worked for Congress in Himachal Pradesh

Anti-incumbency against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government, the issue of price rise, coupled with the Congress’ promises of restoring the old pension scheme and providing Rs 1,500 to every woman perhaps drew voters to the grand old party in Himachal Pradesh.

The people of the hill state followed the tradition of changing the incumbent government by voting out the BJP from power as they rejected its much-hyped slogan of raj nahin, riwaaj badlenge (changing tradition, not the government).

The BJP launched an all-out and aggressive personalised campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, but voters went by local rather than national issues.

Instead of the incumbent chief minister, the electorate preferred to have a new face from the Congress, where Virbhadra Singh had dominated the party’s politics for four decades.

This is the first election that the Congress fought without Virbhadra Singh, who passed away in July 2021.

Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh is the PCC chief who steered the party to victory this time while riding on Virbhadra’s legacy.

A senior leader said a united leadership and people’s support at the grassroots level helped the party stop the BJP’s juggernaut led by PM Modi.

“The people of Himachal Pradesh preferred to side with the Congress and go by the sentiment of repeating the trend of voting out incumbent governments. The Congress promises also caught fancy with the voters,” another leader said.

Last-minute efforts of the BJP to declare the Hatti community in the Scheduled Tribes category also did not seem to work in the state as the BJP failed to sweep all five seats in Sirmour district.

The party could bag only the two seats of Pachchad and Paonta Sahib.

The Congress won the seats of Shillai, Nahan and Sri Renuka ji, where Hattis are a dominant community.

The Congress also went all out to make a religious pitch in its poll manifesto while seeking to lure the voters of Himachal Pradesh, which is also referred to as dev bhumi (the land of gods).

It rolled out ambitious promises ranging from a free once-in-four-year pilgrimage for all elderly to a dedicated budget for the promotion of religious tourism in every assembly constituency, as the manifesto included a stand-alone segment titled – “Devsthan and Tirth Yatras” (temples and pilgrimages).

The loftiest promise in this section is a pledge of free pilgrimage to any shrine of choice for all elderly in the state.

The Congress promised to foot the bill for such a trip every four years. It included a provision for attendants to accompany the elderly on such trips.

A “Dev Bhumi Vikas Nidhi”, a fund that entails dedicating budgeting for each assembly constituency to promote religious tourism, has also been promised.

The Congress had made ten promises to the people of Himachal Pradesh which include the restoration of the old pension scheme in its first meeting of the state cabinet, besides giving Rs 1500 to all adult women in the state.

It also sought to woo the poor by promising 300 units of free power to all households and five lakh jobs to the youth besides setting up a Rs 680-crore StartUp fund that would include Rs 10 crore fund for each of the 68 assembly constituencies to provide self-employment opportunities to youth.

The 52-page ‘Pratigya Patra – Himachal, Himachaliyat aur Hum’ also promised a special budget to MLAs to promote religious tourism, one job per family to those affected by power projects and urban MGNREGA jobs to the unemployed.

It also promised to register FIRs against illegal miners and set up a panel to fix prices of agriculture and horticulture produce.

The Congress had said that the government will buy 10 litres of milk daily from farmers and cow dung at Rs 2 per kilogram, and has promised to set up a Devbhumi Vikas Nidhi, if elected to power.

The party also promised to provide loans at nominal rates to taxi drivers and increase the period of their permit from 10 years to 15 years.

The Congress has also promised pension for journalists, a reduction in fees for gun licences and bringing down the state’s debt burden.

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