“Virbhadra Singh has put his heart and soul in taking development to every nook and corner of the state,” Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said atan election rally earlier this month in Himachal Pradesh, which goes to the polls on 9 November.
Can the Congress depend on chief minister Singh’s development record to recapture power in Himachal Pradesh?
Himachal Pradesh has seen alternating between Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 1993. Singh has been the chief minister during the Congress terms in power—between 2003 and 2007, and between 2013 and 2017.
Between 2003-04 and 2007-08, Himachal Pradesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an average rate of 8.4%. Over the next five years, this declined to 7.6%, only to pick up to 7.8% between 2013-14 and 2016-17.
However, these numbers do not mean that the Congress governments under Singh have been successful in delivering higher growth. As the chart below indicates, Himachal’s growth trajectory has followed the national growth trajectory throughout this period. The relatively subdued growth performance during BJP rule cannot be attributed solely to the state government.
There does not seem to be much to choose between the two national parties when it comes to growth in the state. Even when it comes to development indicators, there is not much difference between the terms of the two parties. Irrespective of the party in power, Himachal has outranked most Indian states in access to education and healthcare.
The Census Sample Registration System (SRS) data shows the infant mortality rate, which increased in the state between 2003 and 2007, has declined post-2007. However, infant mortality in Himachal has been consistently lower than the national average.
According to data from Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report, learning levels in rural areas have declined over the last decade in the state, but that too has followed a largely similar pattern as the all-India figure. In absolute terms, Himachal Pradesh performs much better on learning indicators compared to other states.
According to Kiran Bhatty, a senior fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, significant investments in the state’s public services, a high level of enrolment in schools, and extremely low levels of social disparity has ensured the state’s consistent above-average performance.
National Sample Survey Office data shows that caste is not as big a determinant of one’s occupation in Himachal as in the rest of the country. Across the country, upper castes are more likely to attain white-collar jobs while lower castes are more likely to attain manual jobs. This divergence is lower in Himachal.
A 2015 World Bank report on social inclusion and sustainable development in Himachal Pradesh attributes the state’s egalitarian social indicators to a mix of factors. Land ownership among Dalits is much higher than all-India levels in the state. At the same time, the state has also been committed to expanding access to public services in the remotest areas.
These trends have been sustained despite changes in political leadership. What this also means is that development does not guarantee an incumbent’s re-election in the state.