Business Standard

In Kasauli, it's a fight between technology and tradition

Close contest in last election led to chief minister Virbhadra Singh himself taking a keen interest in campaigning

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar | The Wire 

Virbhadra Singh
Virbhadra Singh

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the are fighting two very different battles in the constituency.

In 2012, in the last assembly elections, the saffron party’s Rajiv Sahjal barely edged out the Congress’s Vinod Sultanpuri by a slender margin of 24 votes. Sultanpuri and Sajhal will face off against each other yet again this time, with both parties leaving nothing to chance.

The close contest last time has led to chief minister Virbhadra Singh himself taking a keen interest in the campaigning. The BJP, on the other hand, has set up one of its six war rooms in the state here and is using technology to not only reach out to the masses but also to keep the anti-incumbency factor against its two-time MLA in check. At Dharampura, situated on the national highway leading from Kalka to Shimla, the election offices of both parties are just a few metres apart. However, the manner in which the electoral battle is being fought from both is vastly different.

Keeping track through war-room

A computer centre owner, Rajender Singh, who has been associated with the for over two decades is not only maintaining the candidate’s office but is also playing host to a team of computer experts who have set up a ‘war room’ at his institute a little distance away.

The war room, he said, is proving really beneficial as it keeps all the workers, be it of the party, yuva morcha (youth wing) or mahila morcha (women’s wing) on their toes. 

At the computer centre, two women callers take regular updates from party workers about the number of houses they visited and cross-check with the voters. They also ask about the impact of the campaign and feed in all the data onto an Excel sheet, which is also monitored at the BJP’s central office in Delhi. Workers that are found making false claims are reported.

This exercise has brought all the BJP’s local party units online and their performance is evaluated on a daily basis. It also ensures that even if the candidate is not campaigning in a particular block on a given day the other workers approach the voters. Updates taken from the workers form the basis for the corrective action which is also monitored by observers who have come from Haryana.

Exercise had worked for in Lok Sabha, UP polls

Local political experts believe this exercise will pay off. One of them, who declined to be identified, said it had done exceedingly well in Kanpur rural area, where the party had won four seats that it had not won before.

However, one of the war room experts said that unlike the Lok Sabha or the UP elections, the action taken on the complaints of the workers has been slow.

The war room is also being used to educate workers about ongoing programmes and schemes of the Centre about which the party wants them to speak to the voters. 

using tech to fight acute anti-incumbency, woes

The workers believe that they need technological support because, there are a number of issues that are working against the party this time in the constituency. Not only is Sahjal facing anti-incumbency sentiment, there is also anger among the trading community over the implementation of the goods and services tax regime. They also admit that local problems pertaining to roads and water may be acting against the party candidate. But some workers believe, the announcement of Prem Kumar Dhumal’s name as the chief ministerial candidate by party president Amit Shah recently would “provide some relief”. There is also anger against the as health services have deteriorated and unemployment allowance announced by the Singh regime has not reached most of the youth.

sees negative votes against BJP

The is, however, confident of putting up a good show and winning the election this time. Its candidate, Vinod Sultanpuri, is the son of six-time party MP K D Sultanpuri. Though he has lost last time by a small margin, his election in-charge and former Committee treasurer Naresh Kumar Gupta is hopeful of his sailing through this time.

“There are several reasons for that. The compensation for the widening of the national highway in Dharampura was not paid by the National Highways Authority of India to several families who did not possess proper documents and they are angry with the ” He said even the Sanatan Dharam Sabha building, which was constructed in 1932, was demolished but no compensation paid for it as it did not figure in the land records. Likewise, has impacted about 20 per cent of the population and they are likely to vote against the BJP, he added.

As for people’s anger against the Kotkhai incident, he claimed that it was a more localised phenomenon and the anger due to it was unlikely to impact electoral fortunes in Kasauli.

Gupta said while the is relying on the traditional styles of campaigning like door-to-door visits, corner meetings and big rallies, the chief minister was the only big face who has come to the constituency so far. “The problem is also that barring Rahul Gandhi we have few leaders of stature who may appeal to the masses here,” he quipped.

As for the use of technology to evaluate performance, Gupta said sadly there was not much support for it. However, noting that workers were using the social media sites to reach out, he exuded confidence that the Congress, which has won 7 of the 11 assembly in the constituency since 1972, would win another won this time.

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First Published: Sat, November 04 2017. 23:47 IST