BJP Fire Fighting in Pollbound Himachal Pradesh
Orange and apples
Racing against time, the Bharatiya Janata Party has gone into firefighting mode in the poll bound hill state of Himachal Pradesh. The party is in power in this state under the leadership of Jai Ram Thakur. The saffron party is up against heavy anti-incumbency, and repeating a government in a state that alternates between parties till now is not going to be an easy task.
A fruit growers' agitation led by the apple growers couldn't have come at a worse time for the party in power. After a massive show of strength at Shimla on August 5 by the fruit growers, the government had another round of talks with representatives of the Sanyukta Kisan Manch.
According to a statement released by the SKM, the state chief secretary said a committee would supervise the determination of prices for apple purchase at controlled atmosphere stores owned by corporate entities, and representatives of fruit growers would be a part of the committee.
But the fruit growers continue to point out that not even one of the demands mentioned in their 20-point demand charter has been implemented on the ground, despite the government having accepted their arguments.
Besides, the state government is also haunted by the issues of unemployment, price increases, and widespread resentment for the Agnipath scheme in recruitment to the defence forces. Government employees are also agitated on the issue of old age pensions.
The Congress party on the other hand has been trying to get its act together besides sharpening its attacks on the ruling party. Its leaders have already hit the ground with Pratibha Singh, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and others carrying out hectic tours across the state. The Aam Aadmi Party too has been coming up with hyperlocal programs almost daily.
And with the Congress having managed to get a couple of senior BJP leaders into its fold, it has added to the worries of the BJP that is now trying to keep its flock together. Recently, Khimi Ram who is a former minister and state president of the BJP, had joined the Congress, along with Indu Verma, wife of the former BJP MLA from Theog Rakesh Verma. Theog was also represented by Congress heavyweight Vidya Stokes in the past.
This led the BJP to bring back two of its rebels into its ranks. These are Urmil Thakur from Hamirpur and Chetan Bragta from Jubbal Kotkhai. Bragta is the son of former BJP minister Narendra Bragta and had contested the by-poll as an independent last year after being denied the ticket by the saffron party. The bypoll on the seat had seen him lose along with the party's official candidate Neelam Seraik who had forfeited her deposit. The seat had been won by Rohit Thakur of the Congress.
The party has also inducted Rakesh Chaudhary who had contested the Dharamshala by-poll as an independent last year and had come second. Prior to this it had inducted two independent sitting MLAs Hoshiyar Singh who represents Dehra constituency along with Prakash Rana of Jogindernagar constituency.
While the former had defeated Ravinder Ravi, who is a loyalist of former BJP chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, the latter had won over Congress heavyweight Gulab Singh in the last polls. Ravi has reportedly announced his decision to contest the forthcoming polls from Dehra or Sulah whether or not the party gives him a ticket.
It is also learnt that there is unrest over inductions, as the question doing the rounds is whether such inductions automatically mean a promise of a party ticket to contest the forthcoming polls.
Besides the inductions and efforts to keep its flock together, the Jai Ram Thakur government has gone into overdrive to placate the agitating horticulturists besides showering sops.
Thakur himself met a delegation of apple growers on July 28, and announced a committee under the chief secretary RD Dhiman to check exploitation of horticulturists by the traders, private controlled atmosphere store owners and others at various levels.
He also announced a 6% subsidy on purchase of packaging material like cartons and trays sold through the state Horticulture Produce Marketing and Processing Corporation with effect from July 15. He said that efforts would be made to clear the pending liabilities of the horticulturists and also asked the concerned authorities to look into the matter of collection of taxes and charges levied at various barriers.
Thakur said that his government would also sympathetically consider constituting a horticulture board for the welfare of the horticulturists.
He came out tweeting, "The prices of apple in Himachal Pradesh will not be decided by private companies but by a committee that has been constituted by our government. Besides, our government has also established 19 e-Nam mandis to protect apple growers from being cheated."
The state government has also reportedly withdrawn the direct benefit transfer scheme introduced last year for fruit growers that entailed them to purchase pesticides from the market and then apply for reimbursement of subsidies. The old scheme providing for purchase of subsidized pesticides is being restored.
But the fruit growers went ahead with their protest announced for August 5 in support of a 20 point demand charter. They are annoyed at there being no representative from amongst them in the committee announced by the government.
"Besides the mechanism announced for reimbursement of 6% goods and services tax subsidy would only add to the harassment of around two lakh small growers. These growers would have to travel up to 50 km to a horticulture department for a reimbursement of an amount as low as Rs 400. If he has to make more than two rounds, the financial burden on him would only increase," said Sanjay Chauhan, co-convenor of the Sanyukta Kisan Manch, an umbrella organization of 27 farmer groups that is spearheading the agitation.
Fruit growers are also agitated over the promises made by the government not getting translated into reality. Observers say that the ongoing agitation by the fruit growers is the biggest the state has witnessed in over three decades.
August 5 also saw protests organized by the Congress across the districts on the issues of spiralling price increase, unemployment and the Agnipath scheme.
Meanwhile continuing with its drive to announce sops, the state cabinet on Monday decided to fill up 320 posts of different categories under the National Health Mission on a contract basis. It also announced upgrading of health facilities and the opening of new centres at various places with particular emphasis on Ayurveda centres.