As the Nov 4 polling day for the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections draws near, a war of words has broken out between two arch rivals - the ruling BJP's Prem Kumar Dhumal and the Congress' Virbhadra Singh. They target each other, mainly on the raging issue of political corruption.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's election slogan is: "Kaho dil se, Dhumal phir se" (Say from the heart, Dhumal should return). The Congress has countered with: "Kaho dil se, corruption phir se" (Say from the heart, corrupt government will return if the BJP is voted back). Virbhadra Singh doesn't forget to take a jibe at Dhumal over his roots. "He (Dhumal) is a businessman from Jalandhar (in Punjab) and will be sent packing to Jalandhar," the five-time former chief minister said at one of his public meetings.
Dhumal is also paying back the Congress leader in the same coin by attacking him over the Ispat Industries payoff, wherein a diary entry of Rs.2.28 crore was marked against the initials "VBS" during the period when the latter was steel minister in the central government. "Who is this 'VBS'? Please explain," Dhumal demanded at one of his election rallies.
On the rise in Virbhadra Singh's income to Rs.6.15 crore through the sale of apples from his orchards from 2008-11, Dhumal said: "For Virbhadra Singh, money grows on trees." Countering this, the Congress leader said: "The builder of Himachal Pradesh is (first chief minister) Y.S. Parmar and the seller is Dhumal. "The entire Himachal is on sale. If anyone wants to buy a property in Himachal, he should contact Oak Over (the chief minister's residence) or Jalandhar."
"The BJP is scared of even my shadow," Virbhadra Singh, who is facing charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged misuse of his official position and criminal misconduct when he was chief minister in 1989, told IANS. He said the BJP "is indulging in my character assassination because it has sensed defeat, but this has only strengthened me in the eyes of people, who know me for decades".
He termed the BJP government in the state as "Dhumal's private limited company". "Dhumal is 'pita' (father), (his MP son) Anurag Thakur 'putra' (son) and (Anurag's father-in-law and cabinet minister) Gulab Singh Thakur is papa," said Virbhadra Singh. Despite allegations, a confident Dhumal said his biggest achievement over the past five years was winning the trust of the 'aam aadmi' or the common man.
"We are harping on the UPA's failures which led to inflation, capping of LPG cylinders and bringing FDI (foreign direct investment) in multi-brand retail," Dhumal told IANS. His latest poll promise is an induction cooker. BJP leaders make it a point to note that it "runs on electricity, not LPG". Political observers say the promise of providing an induction cooker to every household gives the BJP a chance to hit out directly at the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government's decision to put an annual cap on the number of subsidised LPG cylinders.
"Initially, the BJP was hitting out at the Congress, mainly Virbhadra Singh, on corruption. But when (party chief) Nitin Gadkari got embroiled in controversies, they suddenly took up the issue of development. Now the Congress is aggressive on corruption and the BJP is more on the defensive," an observer said. The votes cast in the Himachal polls will be counted December 20, after the Gujarat elections are over.