What is the social structure of the state?

Upper castes, mostly Rajputs, dominate the state’s polity. Brahmins have usually played the role of kingmaker, with the exception of BJP’s Shanta Kumar, who was twice the chief minister. Scheduled castes, despite comprising 25.19% of the state’s population and being second only to Rajputs in numbers, have not organized themselves into a voting bloc. Other backward classes make up 17.1% of the population and can tilt the poll result in Kangra, Una, Hamirpur, Sirmaur and Solan districts. Tribal areas include Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Chamba districts, where Gaddi is the most dominant tribe.

What is the state’s economic framework?

Himachal Pradesh is a major grower of fruits and vegetables. It is famous for its apples and oranges, with the Kinnaur variety of apples attracting a premium in the market. Handicrafts and tourism are the other generators of employment. The state has one of the highest populations of government employees in India. Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh is the main industrial belt and is home to several firms in the fast moving consumer goods and pharma sectors. This year HP may become the first state in India where all households have a cooking gas connection, according to the 2019-20 state budget.

Which are the key parties?

The key parties are the Congress and BJP. Sukh Ram, who has been in and out of the Congress, rejoined the party in March. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has a small presence in the state.

Who are the key candidates?

The most prominent candidate in the state is Anurag Singh Thakur, a young member of Parliament from the Hamirpur seat. Thakur, son of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, was also the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. State legislators Kishan Kapoor and Suresh Kashyap, who have a lot of influence in their respective regions, are also contesting the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress has fielded Aashray Sharma in Mandi to take on current BJP member of Parliament Ram Swaroop Sharma.

What are the major issues for voters?

The major issues are lack of jobs, prices of farm produce, water scarcity and national security. The state depends heavily on tourism. However, this is a seasonal industry and with a dearth of jobs in other sectors, the youth often go to Dharamshala, Shimla or outside the state in search of employment. The scarcity of water in summer is a cause for concern in Shimla. Tourist-heavy areas such as the state capital face the problem of encroachments. In a Rajput-dominated state, national security is an emotive issue.

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