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India - Himachal Pradesh

Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh on Monday 18 December 2017 threw up the most unexpected result. With 44 seats, the BJP has won almost a two-thirds majority in the 68-member Himachal assembly, besides raising its tally of states to 14. Voters gave BJP a huge victory, but rejected the saffron party's entire top leadership, including the chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal. Riding a wave of anti-incumbency against Congress, BJP won 44 of the 68 seats in the assembly and even increased its vote share substantially, from 38.7% in 2012 to 48.7% in 2017, making the loss of its top leaders even more shocking. Congress mustered only 21 seats, even as its vote share fell from 42.8% in 2012 to 41.8% this time.

After sweeping Himachal Pradesh, the BJP found itself looking for a new man for the top job. Prem Kumar Dhumal, the rare Chief Ministerial face projected by the BJP before the polls, lost in his seat. Dhumal, a two-time Chief Minister, was two years short of the BJP's "retirement age". He was chosen to help the party gain the support of the upper castes - Brahmins and Rajputs - but he lost.

Himachal PradeshDhumal did not win even though the BJP was racing to an emphatic victory. A veteran lawmaker offered a way out. Virender Kumar, elected for the fourth time from the Kutlehar constituency, offered to vacate his seat for Dhumal. Dhumal counted around 26 of the BJP's 44 lawmakers as his supporters. The party weighed two more options; one involves sending a central leader to Himachal Pradesh and would require a by-election within six months. Union health minister JP Nadda, 57, and Mr Dhumal's 43-year-old son Anurag Thakur, are the two names reportedly being discussed for this option.

Dhumal had played a crucial role in ensuring the consolidation of the dominant Thakur community, that comprises 28 percent of the population of this hilly state. The Thakur vote is reported to have helped propel the BJP to its outstanding victory in the state (winning 32 and leading in 12 of the 68 seats at last count) ensuring their victory in over ten seats.

Congress' Rajinder Singh Rana emerged as the giant killer of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections after defeating BJP's chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal from the Sujanpur constituency. It is not that Dhumal and Rana had any personal enmity. Rana subsequently quit the BJP and fought and won the election as an Independent and then went on to join the Congress party. He has carefully nurtured the Sujanpur constituency, where he is known as the 'billionaire' candidate. Ratna Devi, a resident of Sujanpur, said: "He genuinely cares for the poor. In the last five years, he has spent lakhs of rupees in the marriages of poor girls from lower socio-economic backgrounds. He gives scholarships running into thousands of rupees to poor students and if anyone falls seriously ill, he arranges for their treatment in the PGI hospital in Chandigarh. He has been with us for the last 15 years."

The Left made a comeback in Himachal Pradesh after a gap of 24 years, winning Theog assembly seat, which is considered a Congress stronghold. Rakesh Singha of the CPI (M), won the seat by a margin of 1,983 seats. BJPs Rakesh Verma came second, while the Congress finished a distant third. In Theog, CPI (M) had led many movements including on law and order following rape and murder of a teenager in the area. In 1993, Singha won from Shimla. This was the fourth time that CPI (M) has managed to send a legislator to the Shimla assembly 1967, 1977 and 1993 being the last three.

Other than Theog, the party had little reason to cheer. It was hoping to put a strong fight in seven seats but it has managed to get only 1.5 per cent of total voteshare. In 2012, the CPI (M) had created a buzz by winning both Mayor and Deputy Mayor posts in Shimla Municipality. However, in Shimla, former mayor Sanjay Chauhan got a little over 3,000 votes, trailing on third position behind Congress rebel. The seat has been won by the BJP over 2,000 votes.

Himachal Pradesh has a tradition of change in government after every election and after defeating the Congress, the BJP is all set to form the government in the hill state. The BJP ousted the Congress in 1990 and the Congress avenged defeat in 1993. The BJP formed the government with the help of Himachal Vikas Congress in 1998 and the Congress was back in power in 2003. The BJP then made a comeback in 2007.

Himachal Pradesh has the reputation of being stable, inclusive, cohesive and well-governed and it stands apart in many respects from its neighbors in northern India. It has additionally, achieved remarkable growth, especially in the last two decades, which has been accompanied by very good human development outcomes.

The formation of the Pradesh as the first entirely hill province inculcated in the paharias (of the mountains), a term used to be employed pejoratively for hillmen by the people of the plains, a sense of distinct personality and identity. Besides this great gain, the political awakening found a matching beat in the economic and social cultures as well. Of substance, however, the democratisation of administration was missing. It was this lack of administrative control over their own affairs, which unquestionably spurred them on to achieve the ultimate goal of statehood.

The decision of the Government of India to create Himachal Pradesh as a separate administrative unit was largely influenced by the sentiments of the local people. The financial ramifications were kept out of this decision. While the process of political and administrative democratisation set in with the emergence of the State, no heed was paid to assess the financial resources of the State. Budgetary and financial controls rested with the Central Government till Himachal attained the status of a full-fledged State of the Indian Union.

It was natural for Himachal Pradesh to rely almost entirely on the Central Government for financial support mainly because of two reasons. First, it was necessary to maintain the administrative set up and the wage structure of the employees at the level that existed at the time, and secondly, the State had a poor resource endowment as compared to other States. In Himachal Pradesh, the Government of India did not hesitate in accepting the level of services and wages at the level prevailing in the neighbouring State of Punjab. This was done without going into the imbalances in terms of resource availability in the two States.

Hence, Himachal Pradesh inherited a heavy financial burden in terms of huge spending on maintaining the infrastructure left by the Central Government at the time of getting full-fledged Statehood. There was no resource availability commensurate with the inherited liabilities or of their future implications both political as well as administrative.

Himachal Pradesh



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