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Battle plan 2017: BJP starts getting poll ready in Himachal

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 October 2016, 19:35 IST

The BJP has started getting poll ready in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh. After unsuccessfully trying to dislodge Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh of the Congress, the party has now got down to strengthening its base and putting its own house in order. BJP has set an ambitious target of winning at least 50 of the 68 seats in the Assembly polls that are still more than a year away.

But this is a very difficult target for the BJP to attain as besides the Congress, the party is also expected to face a formidable challenge from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that is desperately trying to secure a foothold in the state.

Over the last couple of months, the BJP leadership under President Satpal Satti has chalked out a road map for the cadres. They have started arranging visits from party heavyweights.

Best laid plans

On 18 October, it will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi who will be kick starting the poll campaign for the party with a visit to the state. He is coming to dedicate 800-MW Koldam, 412-MW Rampur and 520-MW Parvati Stage III projects and may also visit Nahan. Modi will be addressing a public rally in Mandi, and also Nahan if he goes there.

This is going to be Modi's maiden visit to the state after becoming the prime minister. He worked as a RSS Pracharak in the Kangra area of the state more than two decades ago.

Despite him being away from Himachal Pradesh for almost 20 years when he served at the central office of BJP in Delhi, as chief minister of Gujarat and then prime minister, Modi has always kept a close eye on political developments in the state.

He might follow up this visit with another tour to lay the foundation stones of the Central University in Dharamshala, AIIMS at Bilaspur and launch a Smart City project at Dharmashala soon.

Satti said that Modi's October visit visit will be followed by that of party's national president Amit Shah who will tour the state for three days. These visits are a part of the BJP's bigger game plan of ousting the Congress government from the state. BJP wants to be ready at the earliest as it is not ruling out a snap poll.

Listing it out

The BJP has also constituted a chargesheet committee whose members are going to travel across the districts in November and collect evidence of acts of omission and commissions besides getting public feedback on the Virbhadra regime.

It will then prepare a chargesheet that will be handed over to the state governor on the government's completion of four years in power on 24 December.

"We had a state executive meeting a few days back. We have also formed a committee to chalk out agitation programmes that will be launched after Modi's visit," Satti told Catch.

The BJP is planning to target the Congress and Virbhadra in particular on the issue of corruption. They are already playing up the Enforcement Directorate case against the chief minister for alleged money laundering.

Just a couple of months ago, the BJP leadership successfully worked out the merger of Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) into its fold. HLP was formed by BJP dissidents ahead of the state polls in 2012 and had one MLA, the scion of royalty from Kullu, Maheshwar Singh. He had been supporting the Virbhadra government till some time back.

But right now Maheshwar is involved in a major tiff with Virbhadra, who is also a royal from the state. Interestingly, it is temple politics at work and the fallout has been rather spectacular till now.

Temple run

The issue at hand is Himachal government's attempt to take over the famous Raghunath Temple of Kullu. Maheshwar claims to be the custodian of the temple and hence is resisting his ouster. He has gone to the court in the matter. The ongoing battle is likely to have its impact on the famous ten-day long Kullu Dussehra that starts from Tuesday.

Locals say that it was a huge theft at the temple in December 2014 and that gave impetus to the government to takeover the temple. The move has been in the pipeline for quite some time now. In the last few years, the Congress government has reportedly taken over around three dozen temples on the grounds of safety of the shrines as well that of the pilgrims.

The move to take over Raghunath Temple has also seen Maheshwar's younger brother Karan Singh, who is a minister in Virbhadra cabinet, staking his claim on the temple property.

Apprehending that people might not be allowed to carry out the traditional rituals on Dussehra, Maheshwar has already approached the governor Acharya Dev Vrat.

Return to ranks

Maheshwar's return to the BJP has not come as a surprise. "This was the best recourse for him. He has been a BJP MP in the past and was on very good terms with former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He understands the BJP functioning well. It is his gharwapsi," said a political observer in Shimla.

However, a large number of HLP leaders and workers did not approve of the merger and a majority of them have joined AAP.

"A large number of leaders and workers of HLP's frontal organisations and even those heading the district units have joined us. Maheshwar has resorted to politics of convenience and has been promised a ticket by the BJP," said Mohinder Sofat, former HLP leader who has now joined AAP.

Pick a face

Coming back to the BJP's poll preparations, it needs to be pointed that the party faces a dilemma on who would be leading the poll battle.

With old war horse Shanta Kumar in virtual oblivion and Modi maintaining a distance from former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, it is union health minister Jagat Prakash Nadda who is emerging as the front runner. Over the last few days, he has become a routine visitor to the state doling out sops at various places.

An interesting observation was mad by a BJP worker during a recent visit of road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari to the state. "The faces of Dhumal and Shanta were missing from the banners and boards. The only face from the state visible was that of Nadda and at some places Satti," he said.

Dhumal's son Anurag Thakur is also unlikely to get to the helm of affairs in the state given the ongoing trouble that Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has gotten into with the Supreme Court.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 10 October 2016, 19:35 IST