The hill state of Himachal Pradesh is set for a bipolar contest between the Congress and the BJP, on November 9. The state is notoriously anti-incumbent, electing a new party in every alternate polls. Currently, the Congress government led by Virbhadra Singh is in power.
The ruling dispensation is being challenged by the BJP, which is yet to declare its chief ministerial candidate, relying again on the all-weather appeal of its 'development mascot', Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The election commission set the process in motion on Thursday as it announced a single-phase polling for November 9.
However, in a surprise move, the ECI left out the Gujarat election announcement for a later date. The poll panel gave an indication that counting in both states could take place on December 18.
The central election commissioner A.K. Joti announced the dates. He explained there was no need for a simultaneous announcements, as it was done in 2012, when the ECI announced polls for both states on the same day.
The counting will be held on December 18. Joti said the commission would like the Gujarat polls to end before that date.
With the announcement of the poll schedule, Himachal Pradesh has come under the model code of conduct criteria.
The state is witnessing an intense campaign from both sides. Congress took the initiative and announced Virbhadra Singh as its chief ministerial candidate. From the BJP side, former chief minister P.K. Dhumal and Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda emerged as the lead campaigners and close contenders for the top post, if the party wins a majority.
BJP has made corruption, deteriorating law and order, and development as their key issues. Virbhadra Singh, on the other hand, is showcasing the work done by his government in the fields of education, pension, job creation, and infrastructure development.
The Himachal elections will be an interesting contest, as the BJP had formed governments in all states, barring Punjab, when elections were held in five states earlier this year. Punjab is a neighbouring state to Himachal. Whether the mandate given to Congress in Punjab will have an impact on Himachal is yet to be seen.
Modi and Amit Shah have already held rallies in Himachal Pradesh, while Rahul Gandhi visited the state last week.
During these elections, the election commission will deploy VVPAT (Voter-verified paper audit trail) system to remove any doubts about the EVMs. So, when the counting is done, the poll panel will pick one random polling station from each of the 68 assembly constituencies to verify VVPAT readings against the EVM counting.
In a new initiative, there will be 136 polling stations managed by women alone, two each in all the 68 assembly constituencies.
“The model code of conduct has come into play as the elections were announced. It will apply to the state governments, political parties, and even the central government when it comes to announcements or policies related to them,” Joti said in a press conference.
An election expenditure limit of Rs 28 lakh per candidate has been set in Himachal.