Local Issues Set Narrative in Poll Bound Himachal Pradesh
With three months left for the forthcoming assembly polls, the political atmosphere is heating up in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh. As expected, and contrarily to several other parts of the country, it is hyper local issues that are expected to drive the poll narrative in this small state with just 68 assembly seats.
When hyperlocal issues assume centre stage the political parties have to fight on a totally different pitch. This is what has made the Himachal Pradesh election very interesting. As of now it is the governing Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition Congress that are the two main contenders.
Although the Aam Aadmi Party too is trying to get a foothold in the state after an emphatic victory in Punjab in March this year, climbing the hills is proving to be a tedious task for the rookie force. The Left with its narrative around people's real issues of course will make its presence felt in pockets.
It is going to be a high stakes election for both the key contenders. For the Congress, Himachal is a small window that can provide it with an avenue of survival and perhaps revival. The BJP is trying its best to repeat a winning performance for the first time in the political history of the state. With its national president JP Nadda and union minister Anurag Thakur coming from this tiny state, the stakes are definitely high for the saffron party.
But hyper local issues that vary from constituency to constituency, along with some that are spread across the state, are compelling the drawing of strategies on different lines. What complicates the political matrix is that when it comes to these local and community interests, people from all walks of life and offering varied political affiliations stand under one umbrella, thus throwing an altogether different challenge to the political parties. It is here that the BJP has its hands full of problems.
The issue dominating the political turf these days is the agitating of the apple growers that was earlier reported in The Citizen in detail. It continues to gather steam with the agitators having now announced a gherao of the state secretariat on August 5. This is one agitation where workers and supporters across the political spectrum are agitating on various unresolved issues pertaining to production, marketing and returns of the apple crop. What makes it a matter of political concern for different parties is that the apple producing areas are spread across 21 of the 68 assembly segments which is a substantial share.
Another local agitation that is getting dovetailed with the movement of apple growers is the demand for regular supply of water by around half a dozen panchayats of the Theog area, which is being led by the Kisan Sabha with affiliates of all parties being part of the agitation. Claiming that the supply from the Jal Shakti Vibhag is not only irregular but also inadequate, the people of these panchayats have been seeking 2.5 lakh litres from the Giri water scheme whose pipelines they claim pass through their lands.
With their talks with the Shimla Jal Prabandhan Nigam Limited not yielding desired results, the agitators have decided to protest alongside the apple growers on August 5. Reports say that the demand is not being agreed upon as the scheme is meant exclusively for the state capital.
Kisan Sabha leader Kuldeep Tanwar said, "The people are left with no other option as the authorities are not willing to spare even 2.5 lakh litres out of the ample water available."
The crash in tomato prices is also adding to the unrest among the agrarian community. It is learnt that the government under the leadership of Chief Minister Jairam Thakur has called a meeting with the various farmer organizations on July 28.
Another major segment that is agitated is that of the government employees who are demanding implementation of the old pension scheme. They have been holding protest rallies in different parts of the state. Employee votes along with those of their families are among the deciding factors in poll outcomes in Himachal Pradesh.
Add to this the resentment that simmers against the recently introduced Agnipath scheme of the Centre for recruitment in the armed forces. Kangra with 15 legislators along with the districts of Mandi, Hamirpur and Bilaspur have a large representation in the military and paramilitary forces of the nation.
"The absence of organized protests does not mean that there is no resentment. The ex-servicemen with a family tradition of generations serving the forces are annoyed along with the aspirants," said an observer from Mandi.
Then there is the dissatisfaction among the people whose lands have been acquired for various four-lane projects, with regard to compensation. The same is the case with people protesting against the proposed airport coming up in the Balh area of Mandi which is the home district of the chief minister.
Members of the Balh Bachao Kisan Sangharsh Samiti have announced a Tiranga Yatra on August 9 to protest the government move to establish an airport in this agriculturally rich valley. They have stated that a massive outreach campaign will be carried out in the villages from August 5 to 7 to ensure maximum participation in the protest Yatra.
Racing against time, the BJP government led by Jai Ram Thakur is trying its best to woo the masses with sops. On Saturday Thakur called on the Vice Chairman of Niti Aayog Suman Bery at New Delhi requesting a special assistance grant of Rs 1,000 crore during the current financial year for strengthening air connectivity in the state.
He also urged Bery to extend the Industrial Development Scheme 2017 for the next five years to accelerated the pace of industrial development, and called for sanctioning a bulk drug park which he claimed would attract big investment and generate employment for local youth.
The state government at the recent meeting of the State Single Window Clearance & Monitoring Authority had approved 18 project proposals for setting up new industrial enterprises and expanding existing units for a total proposed investment of Rs 977 crore and an estimated 'employment potential' of about 3,793 persons.
The state cabinet at its recent meeting also decided to fill up vacant posts under various categories. This includes 500 posts of medical officers, 880 posts of community health officers on contract basis and 19 posts of medical officers (dental).
But the party has a lot of ground work to do amid claims of good governance.
A recent visit to the Deputy Commissioner's office was an eye-opener as out of the ten counters for public service pertaining to the registration and licensing of vehicles and other services, nine were vacant. Only one overworked employee continued attending to people while another was on leave.
The twin issues of spiralling unemployment and inflation could be the deciding factors in the forthcoming polls. It remains to be seen how the BJP tackles these two fronts which the Congress has been playing up. The All India Congress Committee in-charge for the state Rajiv Shukla had recently announced a 'Yuva Rozgar Yatra' from Dharamshala from July 27.
Meanwhile questions are being raised on the state government having reportedly witnessed nine chief secretaries and four Director-Generals of Police in four and a half years of the much touted 'double engine' sarkar.
"It is a ploy to shift the blame on the bureaucracy for your own failures. A bureaucrat will remain a bureaucrat even if you keep replacing them," said former Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan.
For the Congress, the biggest challenge remains its unity. The party leadership has been trying to project a unified force but there are many fissures down the ranks that can play spoilsport. This is well understood by the party cadres down the line, who say the party will have to make its campaign click at the earliest among voters.