Despite BJP loss, no visible anti-incumbency

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jairam Thakur waves at supporters during an election rally in Karsog on November 10, 2022. Photo: Twitter/@jairamthakurbjp via PTI

Despite lagging behind the Congress by a slender margin, the people of the State seem to have shown satisfaction with the overall performance of the Jai Ram Thakur government, as the Lokniti-CSDS survey shows.

The Congress’s margin of victory remained narrow with the party winning by less than 2,000 votes on 15 seats. In Bhoranj, Congress candidate Suresh Kumar defeated Anil Dhiman of the BJP by just 60 votes. The low margins can be explained by people’s general sense of satisfaction with the incumbent government.

The post-poll study conducted by Lokniti found that 32% of people were fully satisfied with the functioning of the BJP rule in the State (Table 1). On the other hand, only two in 10 voters were fully dissatisfied with the government.

When it came to rating the performance of sitting MLAs, 63% voters said they were happy with the work done by the local Congress MLA, while 34% reported being dissatisfied. On the other hand, 55% of people were satisfied with the work done by their local BJP MLA and 43% said they were unhappy (Table 2).

Satisfaction with the sitting MLAs helped both parties, as eight in 10 of those satisfied with the sitting MLAs (whether BJP or Congress) voted for the respective party.

Among those who were fully dissatisfied with the work done by the sitting Congress MLA, six in 10 voted for the BJP. However, the Congress was successful in attracting a greater proportion of those who were completely dissatisfied with the work done by a sitting BJP MLA, with seven in 10 voting for the Congress.

Voters satisfied with Modi government

The BJP relied heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity in its Himachal Pradesh election campaign. The PM addressed multiple rallies in the State, was seen wearing traditional Himachali attire on various occasions and even gifted heirlooms crafted by artisans from the State to world leaders at the G-20 summit. These gestures may have connected with the people of the State.

Though the BJP lost the election in the State, the people of Himachal Pradesh are still strongly in support of the Modi government. More than half of the voters said they were fully satisfied with the BJP regime at the Centre (Table 3), with only 16% of people saying they were unhappy with the work done by the Central government.

In fact, when it came to determining the factors behind their voting choices, most people ranked the performance of the Modi government slightly higher than that of the BJP government at the State level. While 26% of people said the work done by the Modi government informed their voting choice, only 23% of people credited the performance of the Jairam Thakur government.

Thus, it can be said that it was not a strong anti-incumbency wave but a host of other factors that contributed to the BJP’s defeat in the 2022 Himachal Pradesh election. Denial of tickets to many sitting BJP MLAs, shifting the constituencies at the last moment of many sitting ministers, inability to manage the 21 rebels, resentment among government employees regarding the old pension scheme, the apple growers and farmer issue along with the Agnipath scheme launched by the Modi government dented the BJP’s electoral game plan.

(Ramesh Chauhan is Professor at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla and Nishtha Gupta is a researcher at Lokniti-CSDS)

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