Though the notification for the Nov 4 Assembly polls in 68 constituencies was issued on Oct 10, only 16 candidates including one each of Cong and BJP have filed their papers so far.
Records of the previous elections show that around 400 candidates usually contest the 68 seats. In the 2007 Assembly polls, 336 candidates including 25 women were in the fray. In the 2003 polls, there were altogether 408 candidates, of which 31 were women.
Election officials are expecting the number of contestants to be high this time as many mainstream parties like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Trinamool Congress look to make their electoral foray in the hill state this time.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which won just one seat with 7.26 percent of total votes polled in the state in 2007 elections, is planning to contest all seats in the state.
A third front called Him Lok Morcha, comprising the Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), a new outfit comprising mainly BJP rebels, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), has decided to jointly contest the polls for all 68 seats.
This may swell the number of candidates. This time the delay in nominations happened as most of the politicians are waiting for the conclusion of Pitr-paksh (the Shardha) and start of auspicious days (the Navratras), starting on Oct 16.
However, Election officials are of the view that the majority of nominations would be filed on Oct 16 and Oct 17. Returning officers will probably be very busy on these days.
The election atmosphere in the state is likely to be dull till then, as voters and political parties workers are right now busy in Sharadhs and seasonal activities like collecting fodder for the winter months ahead, and preparing for coming Dushehra and Diwali festivals.
This has made it tough for political parties to gauge the mood of voters. With weeklong International Dussehra festival scheduled to be held from Oct 24 to 30 in Kullu, people of the area will remain busy till the month end and politicians would be left with very less time to mobilize support in their favour.
In about half a dozen constituencies, the main political parties either have already changed or are in the process of changing the candidate, forcing supporters to stay away from the campaign.
In most of the constituencies, several rebels in almost every party are making their supporters wait with fingers crossed till the last day of the nominations.
Political observers say since the gap between the polling dates for Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat is almost 40 days, the top leadership of the BJP and the Congress will concentrate for a longer period on the hill state.
Beside Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, general secretary Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP stalwarts like LK Advani and Nitin Gadkari, BSP supremo Mayawati and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee are expected to visit Himachal to address poll rallies.
Indications are that NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Punjab counterpart Parkash Singh Badal apart from several film personalities may also visit the state after Oct 20.
As many as 45.9 lakh voters will cast their ballots on Nov 4 at 7,252 polling stations. Polling would be held between 8 a.m and 5 p.m. The counting of votes would be done on Dec 20.
(An article written by Arvind Sharma)