The apple belts of Himachal Pradesh, which have been the traditional stronghold of the Congress, have produced some formidable leaders in the state. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is now laying special focus on these areas to improve its electoral prospects in the coming Lok Sabha polls.
The saffron party has planned to organise four 'Maha sammelans' in the apple growing areas.
Maha sammelans will be held in four assembly segments of Rohru, Jubbal-Kotkhai, Theogh and Chopal between March 15 and 30. While Chopal is represented by Independent legislator Balbir Verma, the other three seats are in the Congress' kitty.
“Apple growing areas have traditionally sided with the Congress which has hardly paid any attention to the development of the region,” said state BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti while talking to Hindustan Times.
Claiming that the BJP has raised apple related issues both at the state and the national levels, he said, “The Congress has been blaming the BJP for bad roads but it has been more than a year since the Congress government took over, the roads are still in bad shape.”
Former Horticulture Minister Narinder Bragta, who is BJP vice-president, will mobilise workers in Jubbal and Kotkhai.
The Congress has maintained its hold over the apple-belt during most of the elections so far. It was only in 1977 that Janata Party's Balak Ram Kashyap had won Shimla Lok Sabha seat. In 1999, the BJP-HVC (Himachal Vikas Congress) combine candidate Col Dhani Ram Shandil wrested the seat from the Congress.
Shandil later joined the Congress and won again from Shimla in 2004. But BJP's Virender Kashyap threw up a surprise in 2009 elections when he defeated Shandil. Kashyap had managed to secure lead over Shandil in Theog, Kasumpti and Chopal.
The BJP has been worried over its losing streak in the apple-growing areas wherein it fared badly in the last assembly elections. Of the total nine seats in Shimla district, the saffron party won only the Shimla seat. BJP's performance had been dismal in Chopal, Rohru and Jubbal-Kotkhai, Rampur, Theogh, Shimla rural and Kasumpti assembly segments.
Apple-growing areas have produced leaders like chief minister Virbhadra Singh and former chief minister Ram Lal Thakur. Till the late 70s, these areas yielded mixed electoral results in the assembly elections. But since the late 80s, the Congress predominance began to grow in these areas. In 1982, of the total eight seats in Shimla, the Congress secured six while the BJP had to remain content with two only. Kullu remained loyal to the BJP, where the party won all the seats. It was the 1985 election that saw the Congress sweeping all the seats in eight seats in Shimla.
In the 90s, the Congress won three seats in Shimla, while BJP secured four seats and Janata Dal one.
But what again changed the political fortunes in these areas was the massive agitation by apple growers in 1990 against the Shanta Kumar government. To suppress the agitation, the government ordered firing in Kotgarh, where three farmers were killed while hundreds were jailed in Shimla. The BJP did not return to power in the next elections and the Congress won eight seats in Shimla.
This was the time when BJP formed the coalition government with HVC of former union minister Sukh Ram. However, Chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal gradually gained some acceptance in the apple belt.