The Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections were held in a single phase on November 9, with a record voter turnout of 74.61%. Around 49.05 lakh voters chose from 338 candidates for 68 Assembly seats. Of these, 17 seats were reserved for candidates from the Scheduled Castes and three for Scheduled Tribes.

Himachal Pradesh has swung back and forth between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress for more than three decades now, with the incumbent government being voted out every time. The state is currently ruled by the Congress, with Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh at the helm.

In the fray

The major players in the state are the Congress and the BJP, both of which have fielded candidates in all 68 constituencies. Other parties in the fray are the Bahujan Samaj Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Swabhiman Party, the Lok Gathbandhan Party and the Communist Party of India, besides 112 Independent candidates. Of the 338 candidates, 319 are male contenders and 19 are women.

The BJP has named Prem Kumar Dhumal its chief ministerial candidate, and fielded him from the Sujanpur constituency. Dhumal has held the post twice before – from March 1993 to March 2003, and from January 2008 to December 2012.

The Congress has fielded incumbent Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh for the post again. He contested from the Arki Assembly seat, which is considered a BJP stronghold. Singh left his own stronghold, the Shimla (Rural) seat, for his son Vikramaditya’s first poll venture. Singh has said this is his last election.

Poll prospects

The Congress has been affected by several factors, including infighting in the state unit, the massive anti-incumbency against Singh’s government on account of poor governance and deteriorating law and order, and the corruption charges against the Himachal Pradesh chief minister.

Singh is accused of amassing assets worth Rs 10 crore, which were disproportionate to his income between 2009 and 2011, when he was a union minister. He was also charged with forgery and corruption by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The BJP’s prospects, meanwhile, depend on the state’s reaction to demonetisation and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.

The campaign

Employment opportunities, transport and women empowerment were some issues that mattered to the voters, besides caste and religion, PTI reported. The campaign mainly focussed on matters of economy and corruption.

Campaigning began as a low-key affair in the state, but picked up in the later stages. Several BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party President Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, have campaigned in Himachal Pradesh. Modi and Shah addressed 13 rallies together. Congress President Rahul Gandhi, however, addressed only three rallies, all on one day.

The Congress has promised interest-free loans to farmers, free laptops to 50,000 college students and 1.5 lakh jobs in the government sector, while the BJP promised voters of a priority to health, education, agriculture, education for girls and a focus on environmental-friendly development projects.

Exit polls

A number of exit polls have predicted a comfortable win for the BJP. The India Today-Axis My India exit poll forecasted a BJP win in the state with 47 to 55 seats in the Assembly, and only 13 to 20 for the Congress. The Times Now-VMR exit poll also predicted a saffron party victory with 51 seats, and 17 for the Congress. The exit poll by Republic-CVoter projected a BJP win from 41 constituencies and 25 for the Congress.

The 2012 elections

In the previous Assembly elections, the Congress defeated the BJP with an outright majority, winning 36 of the 68 seats. Virbhadra Singh became chief minister of the state for the sixth time. The BJP, which was facing anti-incumbency then, won only 26 seats.