Anti-incumbency likely to strike again as Himachal goes to polls

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If the Congress has an edge in the biggest district of Kangra, BJP holds sway in the other two major regions of Mandi and Shimla districts.
Polling for the Himachal Pradesh assembly is all set to commence on Thursday morning, with rivals Congress and BJP locking horns in all 68 constituencies where 338 candidates, including 62 MLAs, are in the fray. The 12-day high-voltage campaign, which came to an end on Tuesday, saw over 450 rallies by star campaigners of BJP and Congress. Here’s a look:

As Himachal Pradesh votes on Thursday, it is expected to stick to its decades-old trend of voting out the ruling party every five years and giving another chance to the opposition in the bipolar polity.

Barring 1998, the hill state has always given a decisive verdict, voting mainly on development, healthcare, education and local issues. In 1998, both Congress and BJP were tied at 31 seats each. Sukh Ram’s newly-floated Himachal Vikas Congress, with its five seats, proved to be the kingmaker.

Sukh Ram, a veteran Congressman, had openly said at the time that he would lend support to a Congress government if Virbhadra Singh vacates the top post. However, BJP formed the government with HVC support. It was the only time that a political party — in this case the Congress — had come close to repeating its government.

The 2017 election seems to be following the set pattern. Rebels are queering the pitch for both the parties. If the Congress has an edge in the biggest district of Kangra, BJP holds sway in the other two major regions of Mandi and Shimla districts. The three regions have 33 of the 68 assembly segments.

The only discernible difference this time has been the addition of law and order as a major poll issue. The brutal gangrape and murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Kotkhai has changed the political landscape of the otherwise peaceful state. Never has law and order been a talking point here before.

Key contests
MANDI
— BJP has fi elded former Congressman Anil Sharma (Sukh Ram’s son) against minister Kaul Singh Thakur’s daughter Champa Thakur, who is also chairperson of the Mandi Zila Parishad.
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DARANG — Cong’s Kaul Singh Thakur vs Jawahar Thakur (BJP). Kaul Singh has contested all nine elections since 1977, when the constituency was carved out, and has lost only once.

ARKI — CM Virbhadra Singh vs Rattan Pal Singh (BJP) SUJANPUR — BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal vs Cong’s Rajinder Singh.

KARSOG (SC) — Cong’s Mansa Ram, who was elected for the first time in 1967 from Karsog (SC), is in the fray for 11th time. He is up against BJP’s Hira Lal.

SHIMLA (RURAL) — Cong’s Vikramaditya Singh (Virbhadra Singh’s son) vs Pramod Sharma (BJP).

NADAUN — Cong state unit president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu vs BJP’s Vijay Agnihotri.
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PALAMPUR — BJP’s Indu Goswami vs Independent candidate Parveen Kumar (a BJP rebel).

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