BJP launches Parivartan Yatra in Himachal to hard sell Congress-mukt Bharat
Over decades, yatras have become synonymous with the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) poll campaigns. Continuing the trend, the party has once again decided to take up the yatra route to drum up support in poll bound Himachal Pradesh.
The party launched its Parivartan Rath Yatra on 18 June in all four parliamentary constituencies - Shimla, Hamirpur, Mandi and Kangra - to urge the people to oust the Congress government led by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.
Through this campaign, the BJP plans go all out attacking the Congress in an effort to try and sell the idea of a Congress-mukt Bharat to the electorate.
The game plan
The strategy is the same BJP used in the recently held Uttarakhand elections where it bombarded the poll arena with its top central leadership along with its chief ministers and top functionaries from other states.
So far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already addressed a well-attended rally at the Ridge in Shimla in April.
This was followed by a visit by BJP national president Amit Shah with the aim of beefing up the organisational structure of the party. The two had tried to strike the regional balance with Modi's rally catering to the upper Himachal and Shah's visit to Palampur catered to the lower Himachal areas.
Crusading against the Congress
At the launch of the Parivartan Yatra, the BJP leaders gave a call for removing the 'corrupt, anti-people and incompetent' led by Virbhadra.
In all, the party plans to cover all the 68 constituencies, 17 each in every parliamentary constituency over the next three weeks. Party leaders will address around 250 meetings under the initiative where they plan to 'expose' the failures and corrupt practices of the Congress government.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar along with Satpal Singh Satti who is the BJP's party chief in Himachal launched the Yatra from Mandi in the presence of Mandi MP Ram Swaroop Sharma. Similarly, union minister Sripad Naik kicked off the Yatra in Kangra from Baijnath in the presence of former chief minister and Kangra MP Shanta Kumar.
The party chose Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, former Himachal chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shimla MP Virender Kashyap to flag off the campaign from Haripurdhar in Sirmaur which is a part of the Shimla Lok Sabha constituency and among the most backward areas of the state.
In the Hamirpur Lok Sabha constituency, the Yatra was launched by union health and family welfare minister Jagat Prakash Nadda in the presence of the new party in-charge for the state Mangal Pandey and Hamirpur MP Anurag Thakur from Naina Devi in Bilaspur district.
In their address at these various events, BJP leaders accused the Congress government of bringing the state to the verge of bankruptcy by announcing developmental projects worth crores without any budgetary provisions. They made it a point to play up the cases being faced by Virbhadra. They also announced their goal of achieving 50 plus seats in the forthcoming polls out of a total of 68 constituencies.
Modi as a mascot
The party plans to play up Modi's connect with Himachal during these public meetings trying to convey that Himachal has a special place in Modi's scheme of things as he has worked here as a RSS Pracharak and later as a senior BJP functionary.
They have already coined special slogans like 'Himachal chale Modi ke saath' and 'Modi ke sapnon ka Himachal banayenge, ghar ghar vikas pahuchayenge'.
That Modi will be the mascot of the party during the state elections is indisputable. But will the ‘Modi magic’ work? The Prime Minister’s popularity has taken a bit of a beating following the ongoing farmer agitations in BJP-ruled states and the failure of demonetisation. In the hill state with many remote corners, the rhetoric of cashless economy never caught the fancy of the people.
Meanwhile, the Congress leadership will be keenly watching public response to the Yatra. Infighting and the potential damage that it can do is still a big worry, particularly since it was evident in the recently concluded Shimla Municipal Coorporation (SMC) polls.
Congress functionaries themselves admit that the party was never serious about these polls and that the infighting cost the Congress at least six seats.
Virbhadra has reportedly dismissed the BJP's Parivartan Yatra, saying that the party is well known for undertaking such Yatras. He said that everyone remembers the Rath Yatra undertaken by Lal Krishna Advani and its outcome.
But Congress workers want the top leadership to taken on the BJP. One idea being mulled by the party is to take out a 'Vikas Yatra' to counter the BJP's campaign.
“We must tell the people what our government did over the last five years. We cannot allow the BJP leaders to walk away with false allegations. We must counter them at every step,” said a party functionary from Shimla.
The message is clear: for the sake of its political future in the hill state, the Congress needs to wake from its slumber to give the BJP a decent fight.