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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Himachal CM Jairam Thakur banks on the Modi factor

“I have never seen such a response for any public leader. This election revolves around Narendra Modi,” Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jairam Thakur told HT in an interview.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 17, 2019 08:28 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Shimla
Himachal Pradesh,Jairam Thakur,LS polls
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jairam Thakur says he has set himself the task of winning all the four Lok Sabha seats in the state, and describes the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the “party’s biggest weapon” ahead of polling on Sunday (Sanjeev Sharma/HT)

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jairam Thakur says he has set himself the task of winning all the four Lok Sabha seats in the state, and describes the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the “party’s biggest weapon” ahead of polling on Sunday — the seventh and final phase of the 2019 general elections. “I have never seen such a response for any public leader. This election revolves around Narendra Modi,” Thakur told HT in an interview at the iconic Peterhoff hotel in Shimla, where he stopped for a quick cup of tea between addressing five public rallies and a review meeting at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters.

People of the state, he said, are impressed with the Centre’s welfare programmes. “But, there is a greater response when we talk about the Balakot air strike and how national security has attained a new dimension under Modi. People have realised there can be no development without security,” he added.

The five-term legislator whose rise to chief minister after the 2017 assembly elections dramatically propelled him to the centre stage, describes the ongoing Lok Sabha polls as a “personal challenge”. His first target, he says, is to retain all the four seats. In 2014, the BJP got about 54% of the votes polled at a time when the Congress was still in power at the Centre and in the state. The BJP now rules both the state and the Centre. “There is positivity for Modi, and there is no negativity for us locally. Together it makes a winning combination for BJP,” he said. The BJP has dropped two sitting MPs — Shanta Kumar in Kangra and Virender Kashyap in Shimla. While the 84-year-old Kumar was left out because of the BJP’s decision to not give tickets to those above 75, the party’s internal assessment suggested the need for a new candidate in Shimla. “Both the sitting MPs who were denied tickets are working for the party,” Thakur insisted. The BJP also has an advantage because the Congress, its main rival, is in disarray, he says.Thakur contends that the former chief minister Virbhadra Singh is senior-most, but not in control of the party; Congress MLAs don’t back the leader of Opposition in state assembly Mukesh Agnihotri; and the new Himachal Pradesh Congress chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore, who was appointed in January, did not get enough time to take control. “All this will benefit the BJP,” Thakur said.

Thakur’s other task, however, is to establish his own leadership in the hill state. Winning all four seats will help firm his grip over Himachal Pradesh, while any slip may spell trouble for him within the party. The BJP chose Thakur, 54, to head the state government after Prem Kumar Dhumal, its chief ministerial face, lost his own election from Sujanpur. Thakur’s contemporary JP Nadda is the Union health minister, and Dhumal’s son, Anurag Thakur, is facing his fourth Lok Sabha polls. BJP president Amit Shah recently hinted at a “bigger role” for Anurag Thakur.

The chief minister dismisses talk of any factionalism in the Himachal BJP. “A generational change in the party has happened [with his appointment as CM] and everyone has accepted it,” Thakur said. “There is no confusion or tussle.”

First Published: May 17, 2019 07:16 IST