The tiny hill state of Himachal is in dire need of third option, an alternate to Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which have ruled the state one by one for past over three and a half decades.But unfortunately, whosoever has tried out an alternate to these two parties, has failed in Himachal. The latest fiasco being that of Maheshwar Singh, who floated a splinter group of BJP, Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), before 2012 assembly polls, only to merge with BJP over four years later with none of his issues (on which he left the BJP) having reached the logical conclusion.
Maheshwar Singh spit venom against the then BJP government led by Prem Kumar Dhumal in Himachal on corruption issue and said he was leaving the party because of that. He got one seat, that of his own (Kullu) in 2012 assembly polls. Now that his party decided to merge with BJP, he said, “Corruption is there in every party. It is relative.”
The HLP has gone the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) way, which was formed by Congress leader, Sukh Ram as a splinter group (after the telecom scam) of Congress before 1998 assembly polls. With the sole purpose of putting up a challenge to the leadership of then Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh, Sukh Ram’s HVC fought the election and won five assembly seats.
Taking the advantage of tight number game between BJP and Congress, the HVC then entered into a post poll alliance with BJP to help it come to power by ousting Congress. In 2003 assembly polls, the HVC got one seat and later merged with Congress, as Sukh Ram thought it wise not to carry on with the failed alternate. Maheshwar says the same thing now. “I have failed in my effort so it is better to go back. It happens in politics,” the tall leader from Kullu told reporters last week.
It was only in 1977 that Himachal saw first non-Congress Chief Minister of Himachal, then Janata Party leader, Shanta Kumar. From 1985 onwards, the Congress and the BJP have been forming government after five years alternatively as people turn the tables on the ruling party every time. In 1990, the Janata Dal experimented. But at the best, in a pre-poll alliance with BJP, the state got BJP-Janata Dal government. Later, it reduced to zero as the leaders, who had come to Janata Dal from different parties, deserted it and went back to their original folds.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) does have little base in some pockets of Himachal and the CPM too, but they do not wield that much influence in electoral scene of Himachal. The CPM is there for quite long now, but it is limited to some areas in Shimla, Mandi and Chamba districts and people have not preferred to support the party in assembly polls strongly—It got one of its leaders elected in early 90s from Shimla seat, but he was de-seated later for he was convicted in a murder case.
Why any third party in Himachal has not been able to put up challenge to Congress and BJP? Despite HP badly feeling the vacuum, with the two main parties have taken the folks in Himachal for granted as they think they will come to power after five years, the idea has not caught up in the electoral numbers.
The reasons are deep rooted. Probably, there is not a single example in Himachal, where some new face, who is not recognized with any party, has walked into the political sphere and formed a party. The voters in Himachal Pradesh are highly literate and hence politically shrewd. So, when they see the old political faces having affiliation with Congress or BJP coming out and forming separate parties, they don’t prefer them.
“What new they are going to offer to people? They leave their parent parties for their own interest and it is a history that they come back to the same fold afterwards, guided by self. So why not support the parent party only, which is stronger and stable enough to carry on,” debate some intellectuals. “People of Himachal Pradesh are rather fed with such experiments of presenting old wine in new bottle,” some of them opine.
Even Maheshwar Singh, who may still be a popular leader in Kullu due to his royal legacy and the religious grace (he is the charibardar-chief caretaker-of Lord Raghunath, the presiding deity in Kullu), he had to eat a humble pie on political ground when he formed a separate party. The people do need a third option in Himachal Pradesh. But who and how? There are talks of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) coming to state before polls. Will AAP offer any alternate to the people in the run up to the assembly polls in 2017? So far, the AAP has taken a former BJP leader, Rajan Sushant as its face in Himachal. It needs to present something new to impress the electorate in the literate hill state, lest it goes the HVC, HLP way!