Tuesday, November 29th, 2022 04:09:14

Naya Riwaaz Banayenge : A BJP call in Himachal Pradesh

By Ashutosh Kumar
Updated: October 29, 2022 6:36 pm

NayaRiwaazBanayenge (we will create a new tradition) . This is new poll buzz of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Himachal Pradesh, a state where the power keeps rotating between the Congress and BJP.

There is also an election song—- Riwaazbadalrahahai (The tradition is about to change) blaring all over the places wherever the BJP leaders go for the party rallies meaning thereby to break the jinx of incumbent party not returning to power successively.

The BJP hoardings makes it amply clear that it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is going to matter more than any Chief Ministerial face ,overall above there is the theme “double engine” to make the Congress fight its battle for power in the mountain state.

But, there are challenges for the BJP too. Biggest of these –an accepted reality that no incumbent government—howsoever popular it had been — had lost  power at the end of five-year rule. Even the political stalwarts like Shanta Kumar –who had led state’s first non-congress governments, could not even complete a full term twice.

It was only Dr Y S Parmar—state’s first Chief Minister, also fondly called “Himachal Nirmata” , who has a distinctive record of serving the state for the longest time. That time, the congress was the only alternative as small regional outfits could not muster a state-wide support or vote bank to over-tune the fortunes of the grand old party .

It’s rather after 1985—when Virbhadra Singh, who had replaced Thakur Ram Lal and led the party to the polls  in 1985, neither he nor his successors like Prem Kumar Dhumal, could return to power. Virbhadra Singh died last year and Prem Kumar Dhumal is no stakeholder in the poll this time.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur believes the past is history. Now ,RiwaazBadalRahahai .

To this, he claims, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity has worked wonders for the BJP in UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa even earlier in Haryana. How can Himachal Pradesh remain untouched by this trend, especially when Modi ji has a special emotional connection with the state, which he considers his second home.

“The Congress, as it looks today, neither has leadership nor vision. It’s deeply fragmented. Rahul Gandhi is on ‘Bharat jodo’ yatra but his partymen are leaving the congress, one after other. Also, it doesn’t have a mass leader like Virbhadra Singh this time in Himachal Pradesh ” Thakur told Udaya India in Shimla.

It’s for these reasons, the Congress has decided not to project any Chief Ministerial face. Yet to encash on Virbhadra Singh’s political legacy, the party has made Pratibha Singh, his wife, as PCC president and fielded his son Vikramaditya Singh from Shimla (rural)—a constituency earlier presented by Virbhadra Singh himself in 2012. Vikramaditya Singh is sitting MLA from the same constituency and again posed to retain.

Yet, it’s more as who makes the Chief Ministerial post should the congress win the election. The factionalism in the Congress has definitely been a reason for the party’s decision not to name any CM face this time.

Contenders beside Pratibha Singh, a sitting MP are state Congress’s campaign committee chairman Sukhwinder Singh, three-time MLA and Leader of Opposition MukeshAgnihotri,They have their own pockets of influence. Yet, the party is banking more on Virbhadra Singh sympathy factor. Thus, have chosen to use his photographs in its posters.

“I had told the party that if you don’t use his photos in the posters, the people will not even look at it “Pratibha Singh admits as she also plays how the congress had won four bypolls in 2021 in the state including Lok Sabha seat Mandi – CM’s home district. The congress believes it as a sign of its  changing fortunes in the state due to anti-incumbency ,inflation and unemployment issue—largely been poll issues in the 2021 bypolls.

The BJP doesn’t see bypoll results are a trend-setter for the December 12 ,2022 general elections as rather it had helped the party to fix some of the problems, which contributed to its embarrassment ahead of the 2022 polls.

“The bypolls can’t be assumed as a reflection of what’s coming-up next. The congress had sought votes as a tribute to Virbhadra Singh. The results were certainly a jolt to us. It even left our cadres demoralised. We did a critical analysis of all the factors and thereafter made some corrections in our organisational set-up.Then came, the poll results of UP and Uttrakhand. This completely the scenario for us” claims TrilokJamwal, BJP general secretary, now also a candidate from Bilaspur—J P Nadda’s home town.

The BJP sees Nadda, its national President, as one of the highpoints for the party’s prospects. Nadda has taken in his hands the entire poll command and has put some of the powerful organisational figures like SaudanSingh , a national vice-president and Devender Rana, highly influential party leader from Jammu and Kashmir as his co-incharge. They are camping the state for quite some time to oversee the preparedness for the polls, and BJP’s return to power again.

The BJP has a trusted leadership in Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to lead the party to the polls. This is his strongest test in the backdrop of the BJP report card of victories in UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.

Five-time MLA from Seraj, one of state’s under-developed constituency, Thakur was not a Chief Ministerial face in 2017.After former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal lost his election from Sujanpur despite a splendid victory, Thakur emerged as RSS choice for the leadership.

Dhumal,78 wanted to contest the forthcoming polls from Sujanpur to avenge his defeat. His age and party high command’s decision field 23 new faces, also sending tickets to 11 sitting MLAs, half dozen others who had lost 2017, made Jai Ram Thakur rather in a commanding position. Even as rebellion over the district distribution has made the party do a serious fire-fighting before the poll fever started rising high.

With a track-record of having focussed initiatives on social sector and handling covid 19, Thakur has relied a lot on “double-engine” government as his biggest poll narrative. Frequent visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the state ,ahead of the poll to launch several mega projects, has come as a booster dose for Thakur,and also the cadres.

Chief Minister unlike his BJP predecessor Prem Kumar Dhumal or Shanta Kumar, Thakur has no big political challenger like Virbhadra Singh this time yet historical fact that even bigger stalwarts vizVirbhadra Singh, Shanta Kumar or Prem Kumar Dhumal could not return to power second time is certainly a tall order for the first-time Chief Minister.

To counter this he says “sometime small leaders or humble beginners have created new milestones which big leaders missed for years”. Here, he believes more   in the Modi factor and the double -engine that none of his predecessors had before.

To counter Modi ‘s emotional chord ,his connect in Himachal Pradesh —a state where he worked as party general secretary , the congress has chosen to project Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as “ Himachal kiBeti” .Vadra has a house in Shimla where she frequently comes for holidaying ,sometime with Sonia Gandhi also.

At her first rally in Solan, she tried to invoke late Indira Gandhi ,her grandmother, to tell the state about Indira Gandhi’s desire to retire in the hills .

“I am fulfilling her wish” she declared as also her contribution to the state.

In 197I, Himachal Pradesh got its full statehood and for this, Indira Gandhi was instrumental .She had addressed a high rally at Shimla’s Ridge amidst heavy snowfall in the town that did not depend on the spirit of celebrations, Vadra recalled at Solan.

Looking at the response to Vadra ,the Congress hoped to  ride back to power coining a slogan “Himachal kaRiwaazjarihai ,Congress fir  aa rahihai” ( The tradition continues as the congress is on comeback trail).

Though primarily banking on anti-incumbency, the congress also hopes to turn the tables on the BJP on issues like Old-Pension Scheme (OPS) ,which is the biggest demand of 2.50 lakh employees in the state.

“ OPS will be restored in the first cabinet meeting of the new government” declares Chhattisgarh Chief Minister BhupeshBaghel ,who is election incharge for Himachal Pradesh. He quotes examples of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

Among 10 guarantees that the congress has given its promise to give Rs 1500 pm to every woman in the age group of 15 to 60 years and five lakh jobs to the youths and interest free loans to them ,are new poll weapons for the congress.

On BJP, Chief Minister reminds as it was the congress government led by Virbhadra Singh that implemented the decision.

“No state government has, so far, been able to implement OPS. If at all a way-out has to be found to OPS demand, this will be in the hands of double engine government” he says and lists-out a series of financial benefits given to the government employees, including arrears of the six-pay Commission.

AamAadmi Party (AAP),which had formed the government Punjab ,is also seeing greener postures in the hills though after a series of set-backs ,the party had shifted its focus and resources more in Gujarat—Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

The fight, in all probably, will remain between traditional rivals ie Congress and BJP. By next week, the BJP proposed to mobilise its star campaigners including Modi, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, J P Nadda, Yogi Adityanath and SmritiIrani and ofcourse Anurag Thakur for mega poll rallies.

The congress has also released its leader of star campaigners who among others also include Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, beside newly elected Congress president MallikarjunKharge.

” There is every effort to divert the focus from Jai Ram Thakur’s failures to national issues. They want to bring in the Modi factor but we want elections to be fought on state issues,within four walls of the state on issues like failures of the BJP ,broken promises, inflation,unemployment ,farmers issues and OPS .The BJP is on a losing wicket it’s a writing on the wall “asserts AlkaLamba, AICC spokesman incharge of polls in Himachal Pradesh.slated to go to polls on November 12 ,Himachal Pradesh is heading for a tough contest. The question still remains – will the BJP be able to buck the trend of incumbent governments being voted-out every five years or Riwaaz Badal raha hai ?

By Ashutosh Kumar

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