New Delhi: Himachal Pradesh has traditionally seen a straight contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress and the 2012 Assembly election are going to be no different with the two involved in a bitter battle. The state will vote in a single phase on November 4, and the counting of the votes will take place weeks later, on December 20 along with Gujarat.
Even though the final seat tally in the 68-member state Assembly will be known only then, a pre-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) for CNN-IBN shows that it will be a very close contest between the BJP and Congress, with 41 per cent of votes going to the BJP and 40 per cent to the Congress. So, although the BJP is a nose ahead of the Congress in terms of vote-share, its share has dropped from 2007, when the party won 41 seats in the 68-member state Assembly. The Congress ended with only 19 seats, although it had been the dominant party in the previous twenty years.
What will the vote shares mean in terms of number of seats? The pre-poll survey by CSDS, which interviewed 2014 voters from the latest electoral rolls between 14 October and 21 October in 119 locations in 30 Assembly constituencies spread across the state, does not offer seat projections. While the BJP has seen a three per cent decrease in its vote share, which stood at 44 per cent in 2007, the Congress has managed to gain only one per cent over its 39 per cent earlier. As for the other parties, their share is likely to rise from 17 per cent in 2007 to 19 per cent now.
Clearly, the 2012 Assembly election is proving to the most closely fought election in Himachal's history. Never before have the two rivals come within striking distance of each other's vote shares. Since 1982, the Congress and the BJP have had a difference of at least five percentage points, giving one of them a clear shot at power. This time, the other parties could make a difference.
Just how close could it be? Very. A closer look reveals that, of the 68 seats, the Congress is ahead in the 34 seats in the East Himachal region, which consists of the Lahaul Spiti, Kullu, Mandi, Solan, Sirmaur, Shimla and Kinnaur districts. The party is sitting comfortably in Shimla and adjoining areas, and is in a close contest with the BJP in Mandi, Sirmaur and Solan. In West Himachal, which account for the remaining 34 seats, the BJP has an edge in Hamirpur area and is facing a tough time in Kangra and Una. West Himachal consists of Chamba, Kangra, Hamirpur, Una, and Bilaspur districts.
While the contest is bound to be a closely fought one, the BJP can take comfort from the survey which shows that the pro-incumbency sentiment is stronger than anti-incumbency, though not by a wide margin. While 40 per cent of those surveyed were willing to give the BJP government of Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal another chance, 34 per cent were against it. But 26 per cent of the surveyed voters are still undecided, and this could play a major role in the final outcome.
Even the race for the chief ministership is a close one with 34 per cent of the voters favouring the sitting CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, while his rival Virbhadra Singh of the Congress is snapping at his heels with 33 per cent. Only December 20 will reveal the verdict.Neck and neck in the hills