Modi forays perk up Himachal BJP as it looks to break 35-yr-old jinx

It is for the first time that a prime minister has made two visits to Himachal within 2  weeks.  PM Modi visited the hill state on May 31 and again on June 16 and has literally kickstarted the poll campaign in the state which goes to polls by the end of this year, writes Anil Manocha

Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a grand welcome in Himachal Pradesh on May 31 as a huge number of supporters gathered to witness a roadshow in Shimla to mark the eighth anniversary of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s government at the centre. Taking a trip down the memory lane, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled the times he spent in the state, particularly Shimla. It may be noted here that he had spent a few years in Himachal when he was in-charge of the state’s affairs in late 90s.

On his second visit to Himachal Pradesh in a fortnight, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 16  led a roadshow in Dharamshala, kicking off the BJP’s election campaign in the electorally significant Kangra region.  Modi, accompanied by chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, was seen waving from a flower-bedecked open jeep at BJP workers and residents as he covered the kilometre-long roadshow. The BJP, which aims to achieve Mission Repeat in the hill state, is focusing on Kangra as it sends about a quarter of MLAs to the 68-member state assembly. The party that wins maximum seats in Kangra normally forms the government in the state.

Dhumal confident of BJP win

Dhumal who had a sore throat when Tehelka caught up with him at Hamirpur said that he is “a disciplined worker of the party for the last 45 years and as a soldier will do everything on behest of the party. The Prime Minister Narender Modi is loved by the masses and BJP will again form the government in the Dev Bhoomi”.   Dhumal claimed that BJP will romp home victorious breaking the jinx of never repeating a party government during the last 35 years.

The PM’s visits come at a time when the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party is also trying to gain a foothold buoyed by its electoral success in neighbouring Punjab. Interestingly, it  is also the first time that the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has recently made three visits to the hill state.  The unprecedented frequent visits come on the heels of Congress making a determined bid under the newly appointed State Congress President Pratibha Singh to wrest power.

Traditionally Himachal Pradesh has witnessed only bipolar contests.  However, last time, there was a Loktantrik Morcha Himachal Pradesh, which took 4-5% of votes. Before that, Pandit Sukh Ram’s party was there, which took around 6% of the votes. When the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) tried to enter Himachal Pradesh, in one of the speeches, party chief Mayawati appealed to the electorate to give her party a chance so that Himachal Pradesh could be turned into Uttar Pradesh. People totally rejected her in the elections and BSP could win only one seat and subsequently faded away from state politics.  The state had witnessed a coalition government for the first time in 1998 when the Himachal Vikas Congress launched by late Sukh Ram formed an alliance with the BJP.

Jai Ram Thakur, Himachal Pradesh CM claims that the State has performed well on most social development indicators. At nearly 83 percent literacy rate, it is one of the most literate states in the country. It has also done reasonably well in improving primary healthcare. Despite its topography, Himachal has a hundred percent electrification and a good road network. However, BJP has a lot at stake when it goes into the election later this year, as its national president Jagat Parkash Nadda and Union Minister Anurag Thakur hail from Himachal

Pratibha Singh, Cong trump card

In the past, Himachal Pradesh has never seen a party forming government for two consecutive terms during the past 35 years. It is in this context that the Congress is all geared up after Pratibha Singh was made party president. She said, “Nobody can be compared to Virbhadra Singh and none will be able to provide the leadership and the governance like him. We shall follow his footsteps. Himachal politics has no space for parties like AAP. The latter is just daydreaming and their competition is only with the BJP.  Congress is promising a ‘Transparency Act’ under which public representatives and government servants will disclose their assets every year. It also says that it will bring in a “Responsibility Act”, wherein officials and government servants will be held responsible for the quality of services.

Revival of the old pension scheme for government employees is also on the Congress agenda. Pratibha Singh told Tehelka at her Holy Lodge residence in  Shimla that the party has held discussions with a few former chief secretaries about it to include it in the manifesto of Congress party. She also had a dig at the “Agnipath” scheme against which protests are going on and described it as a “blunder”. She also criticised the alleged misuse of public funds on a water supply scheme as there was no water and water supply pipes worth crores were lying ideal. She agreed that she is from a royal family but understands the problems of common people and was meeting Congress ticket aspirants to listen to them and curb any sort of infighting within Congress. She felt the PM should have announced some big announcements to meet the aspirations of the masses. She described the alleged hounding of Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate as witch hunting and vendetta politics.

Kejriwal hits out at Cong, BJP

The ruling BJP and opposition Congress remained on the target of Kejriwal during the Hamirpur, Kangra and Mandi visits. He prominently raised the issues of political corruption, lack of teachers in schools, poor health amenities, unemployment and rising prices in his rallies and interactions. He says that the people of Himachal Pradesh voted for Congress for 30 years and BJP for 20 years. It is worth mentioning that Himachal Pradesh, despite not having a huge population, has the fifth highest unemployment rate.

Political analysts with an eye on Himachal’s politics are quite certain that it will not be so easy for the AAP to make an impact in the politics of Himachal. For the Aam Admi Party, the road to Himachal Pradesh will be full of hurdles because the state has always traditionally been a two-party state, with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party taking turns to rule the state.

There were several attempts in the past by political parties to make an entry into the state but people always believed in their leaders. The social and political realities of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are quite different.  The leaders of Punjab usually moved in long cavalcades with a staff of armed security guards, which made them unapproachable to the public, resulting in a disconnect between leaders and the public.