With Narendra Modi set to visit Shimla, apple politics hots up in HP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to Shimla seems to have resulted in a political slugfest in the state of Himachal Pradesh, which is preparing for assembly elections scheduled this year. While the ruling Congress party is demanding that Modi fulfil the promises he made to the during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaigning, Left parties have raised concern over the venue of Modi’s rally — the Ridge.india Updated: Apr 26, 2017 14:05 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to Shimla seems to have resulted in a political slugfest in the state of Himachal Pradesh, which is preparing for assembly elections scheduled this year. While the ruling Congress party is demanding that Modi fulfil the promises he made to the during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaigning, Left parties have raised concern over the venue of Modi’s rally — the Ridge.
Congress is also urging Modi to raise import duties on apple so that the state’s produce can compete with imported foreign fruit that is available in the Indian markets. Apple constitutes 85% of the fruit crop of the state, and contributes significantly to the state’s economy. But foreign apple influx has been effecting domestic produce
“We, being citizens of Shimla, welcome Modiji but at the same time we expect him to fulfil promises he made to people of the state,” Congress general secretary Naresh Chauhan said. “South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) is being misused by some countries to smuggle their apple produce in India. This has been creating a glut in the market, resulting in a fall in apple prices. It’s high time that Modi fulfil his promise,” he added.
During campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi had promised to enhance import duty on apple. State Congress, too, had promised to triple import duty but failed to live up to its words. India imports about one crore apple boxes annually and Himachal is the second-largest apple producer after Jammu and Kashmir, which produces 20 lakh metric tonne (MT).
While Himachal produces 8 lakh MT, Uttarakhand produced a little less than 1 lakh MT apple last year. Apple is the main stay of people in four districts = Shimla, Kullu, Mandi , Kinnaur and Sirmaur.
While imported apple costs Rs 800 to Rs 1,200 for a 10 kilogram box, a similar box of Indian apple costs Rs 600 to Rs 1,400. Majority of the imported apple comes from China, United States, New Zealand, Australia and Chile.
Further, Congress is also demanding ‘Smart City’ tag for the capital town of Shimla, which lost race to Dharamshala, the second capital of the state. “Modi promised to give impetus to tourism in the state but the Centre has not granted any tourism project to the state. We expected a lot from him when he visited Mandi last year but he did not announce anything,” Chauhan added.
Apple belts in Himachal play an important role in state politics — of the last five chief ministers of the state, two (late Thakur Ram Lal and current chief minister Virbhadra Singh) are from the apple heartland i.e. Shimla district .
BJP on the defensive
BJP has refrained from commenting on ‘apple politics’. “Himachal is very close to Modiji’s heart. When he was in-charge of state affairs for BJP, he has visited every nook and corner of the state. I don’t think that one has to demand anything or tell him anything about Himachal Pradesh,” state BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti said while reacting to Congress’ demand .
‘Nothing wrong with holding rally on Ridge’
After Shimla deputy mayor wrote a letter to Modi urging a shift in the rally venue, district administration on Wednesday clarified that there was nothing wrong in holding a public meeting on the Ridge even as the Left-ruled MC raised apprehensions about the visit .
“We inspected the Ridge maidan (ground), especially the area above water tank. No visible cracks were found over the tank,” a district administration official said.
The panel also gave details about the functions held on Ridge — including swearing-in ceremony of chief minister Virbhadra Singh in 2012, New Year, Republic Day, Independence Day function, Statehood Day functions etc. The panel also said that the average footfall on the Ridge was 4,000-5,000 persons per day.
Deputy mayor had shot off a letter to Modi, asking him to shift venue as “large crowd could impact the water tank beneath the historic ground”.