Shimla: In the first major victory for the government led by Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu in Himachal Pradesh on Thursday, the Congress won 24 of the 34 wards of the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC). The Bharatiya Janata Party won nine while the Communist Party of India (Marxist) won one ward.
Tuesday’s vote counting Both the BJP and the Congress fielded 34 candidates each, while the CPI(M) fielded four candidates.
As per the State Election Commission data, at least 20 women candidates won from different wards.
With Thursday’s landslide victory, the Congress has regained control of the civic body after 10 years. The corporation was a Congress bastion from 1986 (when the first elections were held) to 2012.
The election – a litmus test for the newly formed Sukhu government – is being seen as a major boost for the Congress and a setback for the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. In December 2022, the party won 40 of the 68 assembly seats in the state elections.
Chief Minister Sukhu termed the victory as a “victory for the people of Shimla and Congress workers”. “Despite the BJP campaign to defame the state government, people reposed their faith in the Congress. Shimla Municipal Corporation is mini Himachal,” he said while addressing a press conference after the victory.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also Tweeted Congratulations on the party’s victory.
Newly appointed President of BJP, Dr. Rajeev Bindal said, ‘BJP accepts the mandate of the people. But this does not mean that the Congress can carry forward its anti-people agenda. The people of Himachal will understand it soon.
On condition of anonymity, a senior BJP leader said, “We were expecting a good fight. The first round of 7 wards went almost well but we lost one ward after another. We never imagined losing Sanjauli Chowk, where we had fielded a former mayor.”
“We have lost three elections. Firstly, we lost the Mandi Lok Sabha seat and three state assembly bypolls in 2021 [to Congress], Then we lost the state assembly elections by a very small margin. Now we are reduced to 9 seats in Shimla Municipal Corporation. The party needs to introspect. Workers are working hard, leaders are doing well, then where is the gap.
Political analyst MPS Rana said that this victory was very important for Sukhu. Sukhu did not become the Chief Minister so easily. There was opposition from Virbhadra Singh’s group, which is now being led by his wife and Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Mandi MP Pratibha Singh,” he said.
Pratibha Singh also termed Thursday’s victory as a “victory of the people and the ideology of the Congress”.
A local resident and street vendor Lakhdeep Singh said, “The BJP government did a lot for Shimla…but now people have expectations from the Congress government…the expectations from the Congress were huge compared to the achievements of the BJP.”
BJP won the civic elections for the first time in 2017. In 2012, when direct mayoral elections were held, CPI(M)’s Sanjay Chauhan and Tikendra Panwar were elected as mayor and deputy mayor.
The BJP deputed Union minister and Hamirpur MP Anurag Thakur, former ministers, central leaders and other workers for the polls, while the stakes were high for the Congress as state party in-charge Rajeev Shukla was personally monitoring the developments.
The term of the BJP-led corporation was to end in May 2022, but elections could not be held that year due to litigation over the delimitation order—increasing the number of wards from 36 to 41—issued by the BJP.
A third BJP leader, on condition of anonymity, told ThePrint, “Had the previous government held the elections on time, the BJP would have won.”
(Editing by Anumeha Saxena)