Why BJP confident of bucking five-year myth
Padmo Devi of village Bagh in Kotkhai – apple belt of Himachal Pradesh, is fully agile hill woman. At 97, she is physically and mentally fit—doing her all daily routines at home and family orchard, quite comfortably. She has no political affiliation or strong ideological leaning but has a strong unfulfilled wish to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at least for once to give him an affectionate warm hug — motherly blessing.
Having defeated Covid infection –during deadly second wave, Padmo Devi, is now fully protected against Covid .She had taken her both doses, plus booster dose. “Yeh sab Modi ki wajah se huaa. Usne (Modi) croron logon ko Jeewan dhan diya. Ajj Duniya bhr mein Modi ka naam hai. Agar teekaa karan nahi hota ,to sab Khatam tha” (This all happened due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has saved lives of crores. He has become popular all over the world. If ,he had not started free vaccination, everything could have been doomed).
Padmo Devi is not alone praising the vaccination drive in Himachal Pradesh to achieve 100 per cent vaccination, much ahead of any state in the country—including union capital. To achieve this distinction, thousands of health workers, ASHA volunteers and Para-medics, braved hostile weather and walked on foot for miles to reach all eligible persons. Few of these were so committed to make Himachal no 1, that they gave vaccination jabs under torch lights at high altitude village of Lahaul-Spiti, a district enroute Leh. Modi had already described Himachal Pradesh a champion in India’s biggest vaccination drive.
The story of 30-yr old Nirma Devi, an ASHA worker, who was instrumental in motivating entire local population of Malana is quite heart-warming. She shared her experience with Prime Minister during a video interaction on September 6, 2021 as how she managed to motivate the villagers for vaccination. The social structure of Malana, a landlocked high altitude village in Kullu district rests on villagers’ unshaken faith in their Devta (GOD). The entire population of Malana refused to get vaccinated on pretext of their adherence to their deity culture. But, when the village God — Jamblu Devta, their powerful deity, gave approval, the vaccination happened. The vaccination doses were carried through a local ropeway as there is no motorable road. “In Malana, it’s Jamdagni devta which decides everything. No outside rules or orders of the local administration prevail in Malana unless the devta gives his nod. This happened in the case of vaccination also. It was only after Devta (local God) gave his consent, the vaccination started in Malana,” she narrated to Prime Minister Modi.
“Yes, yes, I have been to Malana and I can understand how devta culture and religious faith influence the lives and beliefs of locals, not alone Malana but whole of Kullu valley. But, how did vaccination doses reach such a far flung and remote region? Modi asked. Nirma replied, “Sir, medical teams and local administration used spans (jhulas or conventional ropways) to transport vaccine. It takes six hours to reach the village from the road climbing steep, rocky terrain.” A clearer insight about 100 per cent vaccination success in the tribal district of Lahaul-Spiti, which remains snow-bound, came from a Buddhist monk Nawang Upashak, who is head of Shashur monastery at Keylong. At Spiti, cold deserts at a height of 13, 450 feet, district administration fought vaccination hesitancy of local Buddhist population invoking Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s message.
Sharing his experience with the Prime Minister, Upashak, recalled that the vaccination hesitancy melted down when Tibetan Spiritual leader Dalai Lama himself got vaccinated at Dharamshala. His photographs and videos of the jab were shown to the tribals (men and women) in Lahaul and Spiti valleys. This was really a great motivation
Whether its vaccination, or implementation of flagship direct benefit schemes of the central government, Himachal Pradesh stands–out in the country. Next when Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes eight years in the government on May 31, he has chosen Shimla— the capital of Himachal Pradesh as venue to celebrate the occasion, marked as “Seva and Sampark”— basically an outreach event targeted at ‘beneficiaries and Influencers’ This will be Prime Minister’s first visit in the election year in Himachal Pradesh, as state is next in line for the polls along with Gujarat. It’s from here, Prime Minister will lay the foundation for “Mission Repeat 2022” in Himachal Pradesh. State BJP president Suresh Kashyap says: “the focus of the programme will be people-centric schemes. How the schemes have impacted lives of the poor and the marginalised”.
Prime Minister will connect to 17 lakh people, through video conferencing from Shimla’s historic Ridge, all over the country in 550 districts. He will interact with 16 to 17 beneficiaries, including those in Himachal Pradesh – a state considered successful model of these schemes. The state will get immensely benefited as Prime Minister will talk about 11 major schemes like Kisan Samman Nidhi, One Nation, one ration Card, Ayushman Bharat.
The focus on beneficiaries of welfare schemes is seen as one of the main reasons for the party’s repeated electoral success in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur and thus Prime Minister will take further to prepare a ground for the BJP winning in the polls in Himachal Pradesh, a state where the BJP had never returned to power second time in succession.
Barely few months to go to the polls, Himachal Pradesh is already warming –up to a highly momentous phase. The BJP national President J P Nadda,who hails from the state ,has already held three road shows in Shimla, Dharamshala and Kullu.
The incessant heat wave sweeping the north, these days, is definitely going to raise the political temperature few notches high before Prime Minister Modi descends on Shimla, on his first visit this month end. Next visit of the Prime Minister will be in Mid-June 2022—when Modi will camp at Dharamshala for two nights while travelling to Chamba, besides Bilaspur where he will inaugurate Rs 1400 cr AIIMS project. The foundation of AIIMS was also laid by Modi in 2017 ahead of state assembly poll, which the BJP swept later.
Modi had always been a big factor in the state during earlier polls held for the Lok Sabha in 2014 and 2019 and also 2017 assembly, which the party won breaking all previous records of its victories. For the BJP, having recently registered a splendid victory in the four states of UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa—breaking all myths about incumbent party never returning to power, stakes are quite high to uphold the trend in Himachal Pradesh –a state frequented by change of political guards viz BJP and Congress .This, is definitely a challenge and also new opportunity for state’s leadership ,admits Birbal Sharma, a veteran Journalist at Mandi.
The spotlight, this time on Jai Ram Thakur—a young first time Chief Minister, who not only led a stable government, during past four-and-half year but also proved his mettle when he didn’t let the development works to stop, during the Covid Pandemic, thus having earned a pat from the Prime Minister, who terms him “energetic” Chief Minister. The biggest high point of Thakur is his commitment to reach-out to highly under-privileged and marginalised sections. Some of his innovative schemes to provide a free health care coverage, social security pensions, Free LPG connection, subsidised ration and Jan–Manch ,a monthly outreach programme. “Jan Manch is most innovative programme wherein any person can pick-up the mike and highlight his /her grievance. It’s held once a month in every district where a cabinet minister is deputed .All officials are supposed to be present and redress the grievance on the spot” says the Chief Minister. During the Covid pandemic the programme was suspended but now it’s been revived.
Himachal Pradesh, has become first state in the country in 100 percent coverage of LPG–based cooking at every house-hold. Under ‘Mukhya Mantri Grihini Suvidha Yojna’ –a women oriented scheme to reduce dependence on fire wood need for traditional cooking. The eligible families of the state, who could not be covered under Ujjwala Yojna of the centre are provided three cylinders including free Gas connection. By now, 3.31 lakh families have been benefited with an expenditure of Rs. 126.80 crore. In the new budget for year 2022-23, the government has announced to provide one more additional free cylinder to the beneficiaries under both these schemes from this financial year. “Himachal Pradesh has become the first state of the country to be declared smoke-free” Jai Ram Thakur says.
Bimla Devi of Chamba district admits that she doesn’t have to go to forests to collect firewood. The government has really relieved the women, who used to get infected by several diseases due to smoke as result of firewood cooking. State’s another scheme ‘Mukhya Mantri Himachal Healthcare Yojna’ (HIMCARE) has really made a difference in the lives of more 5.40 lakh families. The government provides a cashless medical treatment facility up to Rs.5 lakh per year under HIMCARE at all hospitals, including those outside the state. Around 2.40 lakh patients, few of these suffering from diseases like cancer, kidney and heart ailments have got cured without spending a single paisa from their pockets.
In order to provide financial assistance to the economically weaker sections suffering from serious ailments, Chief Minister also has started ‘Mukhya Mantri Sahara Yojna’ providing as assistance of Rs 3,000 every month. “What was Congress doing all these years. When, I look back at the report card of all earlier government, I get a shock. There not a single innovative scheme aimed to benefit underprivileged and economically weaker sections. That’s why I always say–where nobody could reach to wipe off the tears, Jai Ram Thakur have reached. Difference is very clear “Chief Minister claims.
It’s quite clear that next elections in Himachal Pradesh will be fought by the BJP on welfare initiatives. Old age pension scheme is most popular initiative to give coverage to 6.50 lakh person up to age of 60 years irrespective of income criterion, in case of women beneficiaries.
State’s opposition, primarily the Congress, has been highly critical of Chief Minister, not handling the Covid situation well. If compared to bigger states like Rajasthan, Punjab (earlier ruled by the Congress) Maharashtra and Delhi, Himachal Pradesh finds itself at better scale even as the government had inherited ill-equipped health institutions having just 50 ventilators—whose number now has increased to 1000. Ensuring supply of essential goods to the people in far flung and inaccessible rural areas, during the Covid, the state succeeded in maintaining a supply line .Similarly the development and implementation of the centrally funded scheme was not allowed to be affected.
Biggest advantage to Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, as Rajesh Pandey, a senior journalist says was his continued and regular interaction with Deputy Commissioners, district health officials and district police chiefs .
Unlike Uttarakhand, where three Chief Ministers were changed due to internal problems, MLAs revolt and also non-performance, Himachal CM was really an exception. He led a stable government and enjoyed the party backing, during all crucial times. Thus, the speculations about leadership change in Himachal Pradesh, did not get any credence of the party high command.
Losing three assembly bypolls and Mandi Lok Sabha seat in November 2021, was a huge blow to the leadership of Thakur. Obviously, questions were also raised at him on kind of governance and leadership. “The congress victory on Mandi Lok Sabha seat, after a series of set-backs including demise of our towering leader Virbhadra Singh –a six-time CM, was a big morale booster for the party. Our decision to field Pratibha Singh,wife of Chief Minister, helped the Congress to get lot of sympathy votes. It’s on these lines, the high command has made Pratibha Singh as PCC president. This, is going to immensely benefit the congress” claims Mukesh Agnihotri, leader of opposition in Himachal.
But, the BJP doesn’t believe that Congress will make any major dent since the sympathy card has already been redeemed, once in Mandi Lok Sabha bypoll, can’t be encashed twice.
“After UP elections, the country’s political scenario has changed drastically. The era of the congress replacing the BJP is already over because of an able leadership of Prime Minister Modi. The people have risen above the dynastic politics to follow the journey of nationalism and development, rejecting the politics of casteism, regionalism and appeasement” said BJP National President at Kullu ,during his rally. He also reminded that it is for the first time in Uttar Pradesh, after 37 years, a BJP government has been re-formed continuously. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has successfully completed the five-year term and has again been elected. He also ruled –out Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) making any dent in the Himachal Pradesh police, as the party had contested 377 seats and could not save the deposits at a single seat. Uttarakhand is another example, where AAP lost deposits in 68 out of 70 seats. For the first time in Manipur, the BJP formed the government on its own. In Goa, we have formed the government for the third time in a row and that too with more seats than last time. Now it is the turn of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
The rise of five-time BJP MLA Jai Ram Thakur from Seraj (Mandi) to the Chief Ministerial post is story of a generational change in the party’s leadership in Himachal Pradesh—away from veterans like Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal, both two-time Chief Ministers.
Thakur was not BJP’s projected Chief Ministerial face in 2017 assembly elections though definitely a front-liner among second-line leaders. Dhumal lost the assembly poll from Sujanpur in Hamirpur district and Thakur emerged as party’s choice for the leadership.
This was first-time when Mandi – second biggest district after Kangra got a Chief Minister. His loyalists believe the BJP winning nine out of 10 assembly seats in 2017 elections can easily be attributed to locals aspirations for a Chief Minister from the district.
Few months from now, Thakur will be facing a real test to his leadership to break the political myth relating to alternating of power between the BJP and Congress in the state.
Even as the Congress has made sweeping changes in the party set-up early this month. Yet absence of a mass-based leader like Virbhadra Singh remains its biggest disadvantage. The party may have to struggle for the resources and strong campaigners for its candidates in the poll. There are half dozen contenders for the Chief Ministerial position. One doesn’t know which way things go in the coming days or when elections are actually announced in the state.
“Admittedly, we may not be able to match the BJP in terms of resources but people of the state want change. Issues like inflation, unemployment and lack of development, apart from scams like Police Constable recruitment paper leak and corruption will be congress’s poll plank. It’s time for the Chief Minister to sign off “says Sukhwinder Sukhu, newly appointed Congress campaign committee Chairman.
With Aam Adami Party (AAP) also trying to make its presence felt in the state, after its impressive victory in the Public poll could add a new dimension to state’s bipolar politics. It’s yet to be seen if the AAP gets a credible face to head its state unit for the elections. Currently, the party is in the process to gauge the state’s political mood.
Nevertheless, the BJP is banking highly on Modi magic and its welfare initiatives for economically weaker sections and beneficiary categories, which are Modi’s focus in most elections.
By Ashutosh Kumar from Shimla