BJP will be back in Himachal, CM Jairam Thakur brushes aside Cong, AAP challenge

Published on Sep 13, 2022 07:36 AM IST

Himachal CM says Congress is BJP main rival in the forthcoming state elections and believes that AAP will dent opposition challenge due to common vote banks.

Jairam Thakur at a rally in Sunder Nagar on Sunday evening.
Jairam Thakur at a rally in Sunder Nagar on Sunday evening.
By, Sundernagar/mandi

The schedule for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections is expected to be announced in the first week of October, but chief minister Jairam Thakur, 57, is already in campaign-mode with a daily schedule of two election meetings and mass contact programmes. If he wins the forthcoming elections, he will be following in the footsteps of his party colleagues in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Haryana; but history is against him – HP has not re-elected the party in power since 1985.

A quiet, grassroots politician, Thakur believes the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s main competitor is the Congress, despite divisions within it and its well-publicised national leadership crisis; the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is yet to find ground in the hill state. HT’s Shishir Gupta caught up with Thakur after he landed in Sundernagar after addressing an election rally in Palampur on Sunday.

While preparing for his next rally in Padhar in Drang constituency on Monday, he also reviewed preparations for Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s youth rally on September 24 with party workers in Mandi. Edited excerpts:

What are your biggest achievements in the past five years?

We have focused primarily on the social sector. In Himachal Pradesh, there was a need to strengthen social security for individual and community beneficiaries. Our mantra was ‘Gareeb ke Kareeb’ (proximity and priority to the poor) and this has impacted and empowered large segments of the population — whether it is social security pension or health sector schemes such as Himcare or the Shagun scheme for financially helping the daughters of poor get married or providing funds to self help groups. Today, when I campaign across the state, I see these empowered beneficiaries energetically coming forward to support the party. We have also taken steps to get private sector investment into the state. We did a global investor meet, for which Prime Minister Modi came and we did groundbreaking (started work on industrial units worth) to the tune of 28,000 crore in Mandi and 13,500 crore groundbreaking in Shimla. These new initiatives will help.

What are the new initiatives coming up to make the state more attractive to investors ?

Recently, Himachal has been able to grab one out of three bulk drug pharma parks that will be established in the country. I am very happy to say that due to aggressive bidding and the competitive spirit of the state, we managed to get the first park. We will complete the detailed project report in the next 20 days and start it as soon as technical and land clearance issues are sorted out. We expect investment to the tune of 50,000 crore and employment for over 30,000 young people in this park. PM Modi will lay the foundation stone for the Pharma Park and inaugurate the AIIMS in Bilaspur.

Since 1985, the electorate in Himachal Pradesh has not re-elected incumbent governments. Do you think the public will repose trust in you and the party?

Our slogan is ‘Rivaj badlega’ (electoral traditions of past will change) as BJP governments have been repeated in Uttarakhand, in UP after 37 years and in Haryana where it was difficult to form a government... This is due to the tall leadership of PM Modi, due to which, the electorate at large supports the BJP.

Modiji has a personal and emotional connection with Himachal Pradesh. I am confident that BJP will form a government again; states all over the country are coming out to repeat the BJP government due to PM Modi’s vision and leadership.

Who do you consider as your main opposition in the state in the elections? Congress or AAP?

Congress is the main opposition as no third party has been able to establish a foothold in Himachal Pradesh till now. Way back in 1990, Janata Dal contested on 17 seats and had won some, but that was a temporary phase. Many national parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party tried but were not successful.

What about AAP ? If the Congress weakens in Himachal like it did in Punjab in the last assembly elections, then will the anti-BJP vote go to AAP?

In Himachal Pradesh, the current situation is that AAP does not have a network. In Punjab, they had a ground network for years with MPs and some 20-plus MLAs before they came to power. They are trying, and may even reap small dividends, but that will be at the cost of the Congress. They are targeting anti-BJP votes, which, in the past have gone to the Congress. The major dent will be to the Congress, not to the BJP.

PM Modi has recently talked about ‘Revdi (freebies)’ culture in which some political parties are essentially buying votes on public money by promising sops to lure voters...

In our state, the electorate does not take these inducements seriously and this culture is not prevalent here. Yes, we have tried to empower certain downtrodden sections of society by providing relief, but that is not free distribution. For example, we have reduced bus fares for women by 50%.

The other decision is that since Himachal is a power-surplus state — we generate 11,000 MW of the total 45,000 MW hydel power in the country — we tried to support the poor and lower middle class by giving them 125 units of electricity free, which is doable, but not 300 units free to the entire state, as some parties have promised. Electoral freebies promised by the Congress or AAP are neither good for state, nor for the nation.

PM Modi talks about tourism and connectivity for speedy economic growth in Himachal Pradesh? What steps are you going to take if you come back to power?

Being a predominantly hill state, we are focused on road connectivity and four-lane national highways. We will have a complete four-lane highway from Kiratpur in Punjab to Manali in Himachal by next year. It is our objective that this task should be completed before the 2024 general elections.

Secondly, we are expanding air connectivity as railway connectivity through high mountains takes time. We have started the land acquisition process for Mandi airport in Bal Valley... We are going to expand the Gaggal airport in Kangra.

Air connectivity will support tourism development in the state. We have now come up with the ‘nayi rahein, nayi manzilien (new roads, new destination)’ scheme for which, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has funded 2,100 crore.

We have developed a 28-crore eco-tourism project in my constituency in Jhenjheli under public-private partnership which will operate from next summer. We are developing 4-5 new tourism destinations. We have to move beyond Shimla, Manali, Dalhousie and Kasauli.

The Opposition is targeting you on unemployment and inflation. How will you tackle that?

These have been poll campaign issues for past decades. We have reached a limit in government recruitment and are now moving towards supporting youth to stand on their own under the Mukhya Mantri Swablamban Yojana, with people creating their own startups and generating local employment. Under this scheme we give 1 crore as loan with young people getting a 25% subsidy. For women and widows, we are giving up to 35% subsidy.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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