Struggling with the mounting burden of paying out hefty monthly salaries to a growing number of government employees Himachal Pradesh, the least urbanised state in the country, has failed to throw up a new leadership that is capable of standing up to the challenges that lie ahead.
The power pendulum regularly oscillates between Congress and BJP after every five years, and no matter how experienced the leadership of either party may be, neither a Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal led BJP government or a Mr Virbhadra Singh led Congress government has repeated a term.
The lethargic populace, swayed by the powerful government employee lobby, is content in believing change has come about when the given leader from one party changes position with his counterpart from the other party for the post of Chief Minister after every five years.
Mr Virbhadra Singh first became chief minister in 1983, which he himself once confided in me that then he was selected as chief minister and not elected as one.
It was a diktat for Mrs Indira Gandhi that placed Mr Virbhadra Singh at the helm of affairs, something that he has nurtured so deeply that another all compassing leader in Congress has not emerged to challenge his authority or replace him in the party in over three decades.
Over this long span several senior bureaucrats confess that they joined up as IAS officers when Mr Virbhadra was the chief minister and are on the verge of retiring when Mr Virbhadra Singh is still the chief minister. They have hardly witnessed any radical change
The octogenarian leader recently brushed aside a media question by asserting, “politicians never retire.”
Challenges wore posed to Mr Virbhadra’s leadership by many leaders which included the deceased former chief minister Mr Ram Lal Thakur, former union minister Mr Sukh Ram, late Mr Sat Mahajan, senior congress leader Mrs Vidya Stokes, former union cabinet minister Mr Anand Sharma, minister Mr Kaul Singh Thakur and others, but none has succeeded.
For the BJP, a leadership change was witnessed at the turn of the century when upstart Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal with the backing of the then party general secretary Mr Narendra Modi successfully pulled of a coup of sorts by dethroning Mr Shanta Kumar’s decades old leadership in 1998.
Mr Shanta Kumar was the first non-congress Chief Minister of Himachal, coming to hold the chair in the 1977 Janta Party wave.
It was a turbulent time and the change was a messy affair that exploded at a party meet in Jwalamukhi, where fistcufs and abuses were exchanged between the two camps.
It is to the credit of Mr Dhumal that despite belonging to a district that only sends 5 legislators to the assembly, he has been able to maintain his hold over BJP even after having quelled an open rebellion from within the party ranks against his leadership at one point of time.
With all the anti-incumbency have piled up against Mr Virbhadra Singh and Mr Dhumal, still there is no visible challenge to their leadership, other than age that can be foreseen.
Given the history of the state, the power pendulum for the election due by 2017 end should be swinging into the BJP camp. It remains to be seen whether the party projects a new face for the upcoming electoral battle or falls back again on Mr Dhumal as its leader.
Congress appears to be resigned to its fate with an aging leader at the helm. Most are counting it to be Mr Virbhadra Singh’s last term in office, unless he springs a surprise again. But what is worse, the party has even failed to project an alternate leadership that could battle the resurgent BJP in the upcoming assembly elections.
Change comes slowly to Himachal. The states was politically integrated in 1966 attained statehood in 1971, but it did have elected chief minister earlier also.
Urbanisation crept into the hills under British rule. Shimla grew up from a village to the summer capital of a vast British empire in a century (1815 – 1915).
Even after 68 years of India having become independent, about 90 % of Himachal’s population is rural and since 1950, the state has had only 5 chief ministers in Dr YS Parmar, Mr Shanta Kumar, Mr Ram Lal Thakur, Mr Virbhadra Singh and Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal. Leadership change comes very slowly to Himachal.