This Week Himachal Pradesh: Diwali goodwill between polls and counting

Diwali goodwill between polls and counting

Prem Kumar Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh, the two leaders whose rivalry has been the defining feature of the just-concluded Assembly elections, turned up at Raj Bhawan simultaneously on Diwali, having gone there to greet Governor Urmila Singh. Coming face to face for the first time after the polls, they smiled, hugged and wished each other Happy Diwali. Otherwise, it was a quiet festival for politicians. Chief Minister Dhumal, his Congress rival Virbhadra and all others who contested the elections are hoping to celebrate instead on December 20, when counting of votes takes place. Though both the BJP and the Congress are confident about touching the magic figure of 35 seats in the 68-member Assembly, Dhumal is wary about some potential losses in the largest district of Kangra, key to any government coming to power. Virbhadra is counting on his hard work and anti-incumbency.

Court before count

The first thing Virbhadra did after his appointment as state Congress president was to appear on trial in a corruption case. The idea was to ensure that the trial is completed before he stakes claim on the chief minister's chair. He withdrew his petition from the High Court and appeared before special judge (anti-corruption) B L Soni and made a request that the trial be expedited since his 50-year political career was at stake. The case is based on a controversial CD released by former minister Vijai Singh Mankotia, now an ally of Virbhadra. Two prime witnesses have turned hostile. Virbhadra is hoping for an exoneration to cement his chief ministerial claim, should the Congress get a majority.

Still wooing voters

The general polling done, candidates are now reportedly wooing the families of military and paramilitary personnel to ensure the timely return of ballot papers sent by post. A total 74,646 such people are posted across the country. Since there is a huge gap between the polling date (November 4) and counting, the candidates want the highest possible participation from these voters, hardly half of whom generally vote. There also are 43,278 voters in the police, in the home guards and among polling duty staff. When the numbers are so high, they could make a difference in close contests. The lowest victory margin in the last election was one of 16 votes. "We have got some complaints about personal letters sent to fauji voters though no evidence has been provided. The EC will ensure the model code is not violated," says chief electoral officer Narinder Chauhan.

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