The Shimla civic body, one of the oldest in the country, is set to go to polls on Friday.
Unlike earlier elections, when residents elected the mayor and his deputy, this time voters will only elect councillors. The party with the maximum councillors will have internal polling for mayor and deputy mayor.
For the Congress, the ruling party in the state, and the BJP, which has largely been out of the corporation in the past 31 years, winning the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) elections is a prestige issue. The CPI-M is fighting anti-incumbency.
Stakes are high for six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh as he is trying to prove he is still a mass leader and can lead the party in the forthcoming assembly polls also, while BJP's two-time Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is fighting a "survival battle".
Dhumal is mainly challenged by his bete noire and Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda, who is trying to return to state politics ahead of the assembly elections.
Both Dhumal and Nadda are seeking votes for the BJP, generating a buzz among the voters.
The CPI-M, which came to power in 2012, rules the civic body with just three councillors in the 25-member House. The majority of the councillors are from Congress.
CPI-M Mayor Sanjay Chauhan and his deputy Tikender Panwar blame successive governments for eroding the autonomous character of the civic body. They say the corporation has been reduced to a "waste collector".
Interestingly, the age-old issues of water shortage and the spread of waterborne diseases continue to be the main complaints, besides shortage of parking lots, traffic jams and unscientific disposal of solid waste.
But political observers say the main issue in the poll this time is Shimla's failure to grab the Smart City tag which lost the city a lot of revenue. Both the BJP and CPI-M blame the ruling Congress of playing politics in the selection of Smart City.
Deliberately keeping the issue of Smart City on the backburner, as it is the BJP's main poll plank, Virbhadra Singh said his government has evolved a World Bank-funded Rs 1,000 crore scheme to end the city's water shortage issue at least for the next 50 years.
"We have started work on pumping Satluj river water from Kol Dam to end water shortage in Shimla," the Chief Minister said at the launch of party's manifesto "Shimla-Sankalp-2017" here on Wednesday.
For the city's beautification, he said the government has got funding from the Asian Development Bank for resorting and preserving the British-era Town Hall and developing The Ridge and The Mall areas.
Attacking the Congress and the CPI-M, BJP's Dhumal has said the voters would punish both the parties for playing with the lives of people by supplying unsafe drinking water. A jaundice outbreak last year claimed over 30 lives which was caused by mixing of sewage from a nearby sewerage treatment plant with the natural water supply.
Countering Dhumal's claims, CPI-M Deputy Mayor Panwar said Shimla has been seeing a jaundice epidemic every alternate year since 2007.
"In fact, the corporation has helped better the water supply and sewage treatment during our tenure. Now every drop of water that is lifted from the river and every drop of sewer that is treated and released into the river is the responsibility of the civic body. This has brought a qualitative change in water and sewerage management," Panwar told IANS.
B.D. Sharma, a local and former Press Secretary to the Chief Minister, however, blames the corporation and successive governments for deteriorating civic conditions.
"Though political parties have been promising the moon but no one has said a single word about ensuring systematic and planned development of the city," he said.
Planned for a maximum population of 16,000, Shimla is home to 1,70,000 people as per the 2011 census and generates 30.09 million litres of sewage per day.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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