Shimla: The Shimla Municipal Corporation, one of India’s oldest civic bodies, goes to the polls Sunday, with the mayor and the deputy mayor to get elected directly by voters for the first time.
While Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his cabinet colleagues are campaigning for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates, Congress leaders and central ministers Virbhadra Singh and Anand Sharma are pitted against them.
The stakes are high for both the BJP and the Congress as the winner will have a psychological advantage ahead of the coming assembly elections.
About 82,000 people are eligible to vote to pick 25 councillors, including the mayor and the deputy mayor. Till now both were elected by the elected councillors for a period of two and a half years.
Dhumal’s prestige is at stake as he sees the election as an opportunity to wrest the Congress-held corporation, thanks to infighting in the party.
The Congress has controlled the corporation for the past 25 years.
Also in the fray is the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which has in recent years expanded its support base in Shimla.
At present, the Congress has 15 councillors, the BJP eight and the CPI-M two.
The denial of nomination to five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s confidant Harish Janartha, the deputy mayor, has triggered some shadow boxing within the Congress.
The BJP hopes this will cause disgust among Congress voters.
Dhumal says, “We are going to create history this time by winning the civic elections. The Congress is a divided house. Good governance (in the state) and the development plank will help us win.”
State Congress chief Kaul Singh said: “We will retain the corporation.”
Virbhadra Singh, popularly called Raja Saab, has not evinced keen interest in campaigning. His poll managers have now planned a few rallies close to the polling day.
Congress leaders feel a victory will not only help Virbhadra Singh survive in politics but also signal the resurgence of the Congress in the hill state.
After the Congress was routed in the 2007 assembly elections, Virbhadra Singh was almost marginalised in state politics.
The BJP has made promises to end chronic water shortage in Shimla. Its mayoral and deputy mayoral candidates are retired surgeon S.S. Minhas and Digvijay Chauhan.
The Congress has fielded incumbent Madhu Sood and Davinder Chauhan for the posts of mayor and deputy mayor respectively.
The votes will be counted May 28.
Photos by Amit