Solan, Himachal Pradesh: Election-bound Himachal Pradesh is seeing a face off between the incumbent Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While that is the big story, the outcome of which will be known on 18 December, there is an interesting side story playing out: politics is a family affair in this hill state.
It is not all about furthering political dynasties. Instead, in some instances it is also about intra-family political rivalry—with one or the other representing either the BJP or the Congress. This is not unique to Himachal Pradesh but because it is a small state the examples suggest that it is more than just coincidence.
In the assembly constituency of Solan, sitting member of the legislative assembly Dhani Ram Shandil from the Congress is contesting against his son-in-law Rajesh Kashyap, the BJP candidate. Shandil, who is the minister for social justice and empowerment, won the seat by a margin of over 4,400 votes in 2012.
Kashyap, who was a practising doctor in Shimla before filing his nomination from Solan, is making his political debut in these elections. His brother Virender Kashyap is the Lok Sabha member from Shimla; in the 16th general election the BJP had won all four seats from Himachal Pradesh.
“From this seat we have a father-in-law contesting against his son-in law. Whoever wins, at the end of the day it is their family who benefits from the election," said Sulochana, who runs a daily needs shop in Solan.
In Kasumpti assembly constituency in Shimla district, Congress MLA Anirudh Singh is contesting against Vijay Jyoti Sain, who is contesting on a BJP ticket. Interestingly, Sain is also the sister-in-law of Pratibha Singh, the wife of the Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh.
Anirudh Singh also faces his cousin Kuldeep Tanwar, who is fighting the election for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM.
The chief minister alleges that this is a deliberate strategy by the BJP to split families. Addressing a public meeting in Solan assembly constituency, he put this charge on record: “For me, entire Himachal Pradesh is one. I don’t believe in area divide and casteism. The country is one and (Himachal) Pradesh is one. Those who try and create a divide among people… They split a brother from his brother and even a father-in-law from his son-in-law. Their job is to break, not to unite. This is their politics."
Congress, which has been in power in the state since 2012, has chosen children of senior party leaders to contest from key constituencies. Vikramaditya Singh and Champa Thakur are representing the party in the assembly constituencies of Shimla (Rural) and Mandi respectively. While the former is the son of chief minister Virbhadra Singh, the latter is the daughter of health minister Kaul Singh. Their fathers are also candidates in the 9 November election.
Sitting MLA Maheshwar Singh from Kullu assembly constituency is contesting the assembly polls from the BJP while his nephew is contesting from Banjar assembly constituency for the Congress.
The big question is whether these play-offs among political families will leave the voter confused.
“A voter in Himachal (Pradesh) is very aware. However, when candidates from the same family are contesting against each other from different parties, it may affect the voters in those constituencies," said Vikas Singh, assistant professor political science at Himachal Pradesh University.