Unemployment, local issues find resonance in HP polls

With 68 assembly seats at stake in the hill state, all the three competing political parties, the BJP, the Congress and the AAP,  are out offering freebies and promising solution to the issues which have been plaguing the lives of Himachalis for long time, reports Aayush Goel

With over two months left for the forthcoming assembly polls, the quaint hill state of Himachal Pradesh has transformed into a political hotbed.  With just 68 assembly seats, the poll narrative of the state is being governed by local and hyper local issues with unemployment ruling the political turf. Be is Congress riding on traditional poll logic of anti-incumbency,  the Bharatiya Janata Party banking on its Modi magic and a ‘split’ opposition or AAP exuding confidence after Punjab’s landslide win, all three major contenders are out offering freebies and solutions to the problems that have been long plaguing the lives of Himachalis. The state’s unemployment figures have reached a staggering 8.82 lakh as per the government records while opposition parties like Congress place it at around 15 lakh.

Latest figures revealed by the industries and labour department showed that the number of youths registered in employment exchanges across the state stood at 8,82,269.  While the outgoing Thakur government in its budget presentation, said 30,000 jobs will be created in 2022-23. This so far seems easier said than done. With industries being primarily restricted to parts of districts like Kangra, Solan, Una and Sirmaur, job creation remains a herculean task. The issue was aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in the closure of over 40 Industrial units, rendered people jobless, and hit the tourism industry big time. Unemployment along with inflation is set to impact all 68 constituencies of the state.

Apple agitation

Coupled with unemployment, the ongoing Apple agitation in the state that has resurfaced after 3 decades is believed to be a key issue. The apple growers from across the state are out on the streets. Combined under newly launched Sanyukt Kisan Manch (SKM) over 27 apple growers’ bodies are protesting against the sharp rise in the cost of production and dwindling profit margins. The six per cent increase in GST on cartons, coupled with a sharp rise in the rate of trays used inside the boxes and similar issues have forced apple farmers to launch mega protests against the government and private companies procuring and storing apples. Faced with what they call an existential crisis, the apple growers are determined to ensure that their issue is addressed this poll season as it affects at least 27 assembly constituencies, mainly in Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Kinnaur, Chamba and Sirmaur.

Tribal tag for Hattee community

The ruling BJP, the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved a constitution amendment bill that seeks to grant tribal status to the Hattee community living in the Trans-Giri region of Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur district. The Hattee population is spread across four of five segments in Sirmaur district, and comprises around 50% of the district’s total population. While they are concentrated in the four constituencies of Sirmaur district (Shillai, Paonta, Renuka, and Pachhad), they play a significant role in at least nine seats in Shimla and Sirmaur.

Other issues

A major segment of the state is that of the government employees who are agitating and demanding implementation of the old pension scheme. They have been holding protest rallies in different parts of the state. Employees’ votes along with those of their families are among the deciding factors in poll outcomes in Himachal Pradesh.  Similarly, the simmering resentment against the recently introduced Agneepath scheme of the Centre for recruitment in the armed forces will play a pivotal role in districts like Kangra with 15 assembly constituencies. The districts of Mandi, Hamirpur and Bilaspur have a large representation in the military and paramilitary forces of the nation. “The absence of organized protests does not mean that there is no resentment,” said a political observer. Then there is the dissatisfaction among the people whose lands have been acquired for various four-lane projects, with regard to compensation. The same is the case with people protesting against the proposed airport coming up in the Balh area of Mandi which is the home district of the chief minister.

While they may not have a solution three months before Himachal Pradesh goes to the polls, it’s raining guarantees and freebies for voters from all political parties. Started by AAP, the state election is being ridden this time on a wave of promises where each political party is out guaranteeing a better tenure, a better life and better Himachal to voters.

BJP’s Mission Repeat

The ruling BJP is confident enough to claim that the party will reverse the trend of the ruling party not being able to retain power in HP, and  will form the next government even as it dismisses anti-incumbency. The party is organizing itself at a micro-level with the slogan ‘Mission Repeat’ under the leadership of the PM Narender Modi who addressed the state virtually on September 24. The party offers no guarantees by publicizing and riding the so-called development wave it brought for Himachal.

The party claims development is their biggest achievement, with every section of society benefiting from not one but several schemes. Some mega projects like the Rohtang Atal tunnel, bulk drug pharma park, medical devices park and AIIMS at Bilaspur are being cited in this regard. The party has already announced Rs 340 crore worth sops like free power and water as well as  50% discount for women who travel on HRTC buses. The consumers of up to 125 units would get zero bill and the decision would benefit about 11.5 lakh consumers by Rs 250 crore. No water bill would be charged from all families living in rural areas and financial benefits of Rs 30 crore will be provided to all rural families of the state.

“This trend of the BJP governments returning to power, be it in Uttarakhand, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh, is owing to the popularity of the PM. How can Himachal remain untouched by this trend, especially when the PM has a special emotional connection with the state, which he considers his second home. Besides, the Congress prospects will be marred as it is leaderless, visionless and deeply fragmented. Also, it doesn’t have a big leader like Virbhadra this time. “Two time sitting Congress MLA from Kangra, Pawan Kajal joining BJP will give us an edge. We will definitely form the government in the state as development done by BJP in the state is the key,” said BJP state president Suresh Kashyap while talking to Tehelka.

Congress’s 10 guarantees

Congress believes the state is low-hanging fruit for it, given the fact that none of the parties has ever won the state election consecutively. The party continues to play up the legacy politics. New state party chief Pratibha Singh banks on her late husband, former CM Virbhadra Singh’s legacy and has announced 10 public-oriented guarantees promised by the Congress on returning to power. These include restoration of old pension scheme for employees, creating five lakh jobs, Rs 1500 monthly financial assistance for women between 18 to 60 years, 300 units free power, fixing MSP of fruits by growers, Rs 680 crore interest free loan for start-ups, quality education with four English medium schools in every assembly segment, mobile health vans, commitment to buy 10 litres milk from those rearing cows and purchase of cow dung at the rate of Rs 2 per kg to promote organic farming.

“BJP has failed people and not fulfilled any promises it made during the 2017 assembly polls. There is rampant unemployment and corruption and after giving a chance to BJP people want to get back to us as we are more connected and considerate to them. When anti-incumbency has always been a factor and affected populist leaders like Virbhadra Singh, how will an unpopular CM Jairam Thakur escape it? We have also successfully defeated BJP in HP bypolls in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat and all three assembly seats of Fatehpur, Arki and Jubbal-Kotkhai held in October 2021.” said Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, chairman of Congress campaign committee in the state while talking to Tehelka.

AAP promises Delhi model 

Riding high on its victory in Punjab, Aam Aadmi Party promises a Delhi model to Himachal Pradesh. The party is not making promises but issuing guarantees to voters. The party has so far announced guarantees of employment to youth, pilgrimage to elderly, support to panchayats and farmers and guarantee of a conducive business environment for traders in the state. AAP promised to create 6 lakh government jobs in Himachal Pradesh and pay Rs 3,000 per month as unemployment allowance to jobless youth till they find work. It has announced free pilgrimage for senior citizens to their choice of religious place. They have guaranteed a corruption-free administration, free and quality education and medical treatment for Himachal residents. “We don’t promise, we exhibit and guarantee. See what we have done in Delhi, we will do the same for you,” party supremo Arvind Kejriwal had announced in Mandi, the CM’s home turf. The party is registering an increasing influence in the state while Congress calls it team B of BJP. The ruling BJP dismisses it as no opposition but a bunch of rogues.

“We will repeat Delhi and Punjab victory here also as people have seen things improving there. Yes, the BJP has snatched a few of our leaders by threatening them but that does not affect the party as we bank on work not names. AAP will claim Himachal,” AAP spokesperson Gaurav Sharma said while talking to Tehelka.

Defections galore

The state political scenario has been witnessing a major defection trend since sounding of poll bugle this April. The worst affected is the Aam Aadmi Party. The party’s then state president Anoop Kesari, organization general secretary Satish Thakur and Una unit president Iqbal Singh switched sides with BJP. They were soon followed by state women wing president Mamta Thakur and four other members. The shift has hit the party severely.

Similarly the former Congress party’s working president Pawan Kumar Kajal jumped ship and joined the BJP. He is a popular OBC leader, two-time MLA from Kangra and has a huge voter base in the district. Besides Kajal, Lakhvinder Singh Rana, the two-time MLA from Nalagarh, also joined BJP. The desertions by two Congress MLAs has come at a time when it is hoping to return to power in Himachal.

Two independent MLAs, Hoshiyar Singh from Dehra in Kangra and Prakash Rana from Jogindernagar in Mandi district have also joined the BJP. The party has gained an edge but also suffered a blow in electorally significant Kangra when former legislator Surender Kumar “Kaku” returned to the Congress after a brief sojourn lasting just over three years with the saffron party.

Kaku, 68, who belongs to other backward classes (OBC), a dominant community in the population-wise largest district of Himachal Pradesh, was elected from Kangra in 2003. He, however, lost the next two elections in 2007 and 2012 while Congress denied him a ticket in 2017 preferring Pawan Kajal, who joined the BJP last month. Meanwhile, the BJP has successfully put off the speculation of Anil Sharma, sitting party MLA from Mandi, joining the Congress. He was forced to step down as power minister after his son Ashray Sharma fought the Mandi Lok Shaba election in 2019 on Congress ticket. Anil Sharma said that he and his family will work to strengthen the BJP and will contest from the Mandi Sadar seat on the BJP ticket. He also said that his son will join BJP soon.

Himachal poll

Total assembly seats


Total number of voters 53,76,077


Women- 26,58,005

Highest number of voters – 1,01,627 Sulah assembly constituency of Kangra district

Lowest number of voters – 24,024 Lahaul and Spiti constituency

2017 Assembly results:


44 seats (vote share 48.8%)


21 seats (vote share 41.7%)