Amit Shah, Nadda take charge of Himachal poll as Cong sees gains in OPS, BJP rebellion
Winters are slowly setting in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, seemingly a bit early this year. Yet, there is a warmth in the air while the nights turn piercingly cold –signalling tough days ahead in the snow-time.
But,there is a hope –a hope for a new government in the state that can make life easy, ramps-up development and works for the economic prosperity of the state’s 75-lakh plus population.
On November 12, the state will go to the polls for 68-assembly constituencies having 55.70 lakh voters,of which women outnumber men in some constituencies.The results will be available on December 8—same day when Gujarat polls–where the elections are slated on December 1 and 5, will also be witness the counting of votes.
Significantly, the crucial elections to Himachal Pradesh are getting more attention than before as the ruling BJP is making a determined bid to retain power owing to the “double engine” government, which had brought the party to power in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa in March 2022.
The BJP national President J P Nadda hailing from Himachal Pradesh, where he also remained cabinet minister twice and leader of opposition, has prestige at stake.
Union Home minister Amit Shah is frequently visiting Himachal Pradesh and also camped at Shimla for two days,held a meeting with top party leaders and reviewed the poll campaign.
Armed with internal survey reports about the BJP prospects ,Shah is understood to have given tips for making corrections in the campaign trails of leaders.
BJP’s slogan— RiwaazBadalRaha Hai, raj nahi has already set the tone for the elections in the gentle hill state. The Congress –the grand old party, which had ruled the state for 30 years, is trying to counter the BJP with its slogan—Himachal KaRiwaazjarihai, fir se Congress aa rahihai .
To give credence to the slogan, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi tried to build her own narrative in the state asking the people to keep-up the tradition of changing governments, after five years. This keeps the mind of leaders in the right place.
“Himachal Pradesh has ancient traditions and customs. These practices are a significant part of the state’s culture. There is a need to preserve this culture and continue with it” she told a poll rally at Mandi—which Chief Minister’s home district. He statement had an underlying political message and an appeal to choose the Congress over ruling BJP.
As the electioneering has gained momentum with arrival of star campaigners of the BJP and Congress, one factor that has started sending worries to the ruling BJP relate to Old-Pension Scheme (OPS). It’s also because of the fact that Himachal Pradesh has the highest number of employees as compared to other states.
More than 2.50 lakh employees and another Rs 1.50 pensioners have been agitating quite some time for restoration of the OPS. They held rallies and protests in Shimla—the state capital and dharnas at all district headquarters but the BJP government did not consider the demand believing that it will have a nation-wide implication or unless a decision was taken at the centre, Himachal Pradesh can’t stretch -out its neck.
“We tried to convince the employees unions that if at all a solution is required to be found, it could be at the level of the central government. Our central leadership will definitely come-out with some solutions” Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said in a television interview this week.
The OPS was implemented in Himachal Pradesh during the congress regime in 2003 when late Virbhadra Singh was Chief Minister. Till he remained in power (also his 2012-2017 term ), neither there was any demand in this regard nor a review of the OPS scheme.
But, when BJP returned to power and Jai Ram Thakur became Chief Minister, the OPS demand started gaining ground. The employees’ unions declared openly to support only that political party in the elections which promises restoration of the OPS.
“The congress, in one of its 10 guarantees, has kept OPS at number one. We will restore the OPS in the first cabinet meeting of the new government when Congress replaces the BJP after the poll” VikaramadityaSingh , Congress MLA and son of former CM Virbhadra Singh says.
Two Congress governments viz. Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have already taken a decision of OPS while last week Punjab –where AAP is in the power, took a decision to implement OPS to score a political point over the Congress.
AamAadmi Party contesting the state assembly polls for the first time has not been able to gain a foothold in Himachal Pradesh. The congress, eager to return to power, is certainly looking for gains in its promise on OPS.
Rather for the BJP, it’s a double whammy. Ruling party’s decision to deny tickets to 19 sitting MLAs, denying tickets to a cabinet minister Mohinder Singh and shifting Constituencies of two ministers—Suresh Bhardwaj ,it’s senior most party leader from Shimla to toKasumpti and Rakesh Pathania from Nurpur to Fatehpur in Kangra district has triggered a mass rebellion .
Those having denied tickets, the party leaders have rebelled against the party.There are 22 rebels in the fray against BJP candidates. These ironically include a former MP and some sitting and former MLAs.
In the home district of BJP national president J P Nadda, the party rebels refused to withdraw their nominations in favour of party candidate TrilokJamwal,who happens to be BJP general secretary and CM’s advisor.
The problem for the BJP from rebels looks quite serious in Kangra—state’s biggest district and Mandi—CM’s home district. Both the districts are crucial for the ruling party to retain power as constituencies 25 seats in the 68 member House.
In the 2017 elections the BJP had won 11 seats, out of 15 in Kangra and nine out of 10 in Mandi. The Mandi district which sent Jai Ram Thakur to the Chief Ministerial position, has already suffered when Congress won the MandiLok Sabha seat in the bypoll, held after the demise of two-time BJP MP Ram Swaroop Sharma.
Kangra—a stronghold of the BJP since the days of BJP veteran Shanta Kumar—a former Chief Minister, also looking’s slipping out of the BJP hands as the BJP’s internal reports indicate.
“The route to power in Shimla passes from Kangra. If the BJP suffers reversals in Kangra, it could drastically change the power game for the ruling party” admits NavneetSharma ,a senior journalist.
State PCC president Pratibha Singh admits that the demise of her husband Virbhadra Singh, a six-time Chief Minister, is a major disadvantage to the party. But by making her as PCC president , the congress high command has tried to reach-out to the people, reminding them about his contributions for the state.
“ If Dr Y S Parmar, our first Chief Minister, is called Himachal Nirmata, Virbhadra Singh is remembered as the architect of modern Himachal Pradesh. We will carry forward his legacy. It’s because of this, I always mention him in my poll rallies. This is helping the party ” she claims.
Singh says after Congress winning four bypolls in 2021, including her own election to the Parliament from Mandi, the party’s revival has started in the state.
“We are going to get a comfortable two-third majority in the elections this time. It’s also because there are a lot of anti-incumbencies against the BJP. The people are not happy with the government. Unemployment, inflation and corruption are big issues” she says.
The BJP’s major hopes are from Prime Minister Narender Modi—who terms Himachal Pradesh as his second home. As Modi has spent several years in Himachal Pradesh, during his tenure as party incharge, he finds a close connection with the state.
“ If I have been able to sanction major projects, worth hundreds of crores, for Himachal Pradesh during the past eight years ,it’s because of your power and blessings. Had you not voted me in 2014 and 2019 giving all four Lok Sabha seats to the BJP , this could not have been possible ” he told at his Bilaspurrally,when Modi came to launch Rs 3650 cr projects including AIIMS Bilaspur—a foundation for which he had laid in 2017.
Before elections were announced ,Modi also flagged off Vande Bharat train at Una and held rallies at Chamba, apart from his to Kullu to become part of historic KulluDussehra. He also laid the foundation stone of Rs 1900 cr Bulk Drug park –which will attract investments to the tune of Rs 10,000 besides generating 20,000 jobs.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur says the Bulk drug park will be a game changer for Himachal’s economic growth. Only three states have got Bulk Drug parks –Himachal Pradesh, despite being a small state, has become beneficiary of the Prime Minister’s benevolence .
“ Now to sustain the growth in Himachal Pradesh, ensure infrastructure development and benefits of social security schemes initiated by the government, the BJP’s return to power has become all the more important” he told India Narrative .
Thakur forecasts the BJP return saying “The Riwaazof alternating government after five year, will definitely change this time”
By Ashutosh Kumar