(Indian Express) When Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal recently said,“...who doesn’t want to expand the family”, he not only opened the doors to welcome back “some who left us (in the run up to the November 4 assembly elections)” but also paved way for negotiations with the rebels “on the basis of mutual consent.”Political pundits are saying that Dhumal wants to play safe even though the BJP is claiming to get two-third majority, as is the Opposition Congress, to form the next government in Himachal Pradesh. Both the parties are trying to mend fences with the rebels as their support may become crucial in case of a hung Assembly.While the BJP is willing to open dialogues with the Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), formed by party rebel and former MP Maheshwar Singh, state Congress chief Virbhadra Singh too has started sending feelers to party rebels. After narrowly missing the chance to to form the government in 1998 — BJP wooed and won over Himachal Vikas Congress’s Sukh Ram and his five MLAs — the Congress is not taking any chances and is also eyeing HLP support.“It was a big mistake. This time we have enough time to keep the alternatives open,” says a Congress strategist.On its part, the HLP too has kept its options open.“We will support the party, which adopts our manifesto, commits to fight corruption and provide a transparent government. The HLP will be playing a key role in the formation of the new government,” says Maheshwar Singh.He is expecting a hung Asssembly, probably owing to the fact that out of the total 459 candidates in fray, 106 are independents and rebels. The BJP, which had emerged stronger in Kangra in 2007 elections winning eight out of 16 seats, is facing serious problems from party rebels in five seats. The party has now asked Sangh Parivar to establish contacts with possible winners to rope in their support.Independents, including sitting MLA Rakesh Pathania who was denied the ticket this time, have remained elusive.“Dhumalji fought only for IPH Minister Ravinder Singh Ravi in Kangra. It is not Shanta Kumar’s fault if the party performs poorly in Kangra. The blame will have to be taken by Dhumal. I will not come to their rescue or support the BJP,” Pathania says.
A close look at the hill state’s history reveals that number of Independents winning the elections since 1967 has been declining, but their support had remained crucial in forming governments. While Sukh Ram and his men helped Dhumal form the government in 1998, he later merged his his party with the Congress in 2003.Earlier in the 1982 polls, of 205 Independents, six won with 14.23 per cent of the votes. The Congress, fell short of four for the magic figure, took their support to form the government. However, in 1990 and 1998, only one Independent each was elected.In 2007, the BJP won 41 seats, the Congress 23.A leader elected on BSP ticket from Kangra later joined the BJP.