Governance, not divine intervention, could help CM Virbhadra win Himachal again
As he stands cornered by the central government in an alleged case of money laundering while infighting rages within his own party, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh appears to be keen on seeking divine intervention to fix things.
But appeasing the gods, or godmen in his case, is unlikely to help him or the Congress in winning the electoral battle in the state later this year.
What could help him at this point is a simple showcasing of public welfare initiatives introduced by his government and meticulous political planning.
Turning to the gods for aid
There have been a series of instances where Singh has turned to the gods and godmen in his hour of despair, something not in line with the ideology of the Congress considering how India's first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru spoke extensively about developing a scientific temperament.
A provision for a grant-in-aid for worship and prayers, along with the maintenance of religious institutions through a revolving fund is the latets to emerge from the Congress. According to the government, this has been done with a view to promote and preserve the rich heritage of religious institutions in Himachal Pradesh, popularly known as 'the valley of gods'.
The government says that in the past, many religious institutions had their own land. The income generated was used to maintain the temple. But after implementation of various land reforms, many religious institutions lost their landed estates, resulting in a paucity of income. This hampered maintenance as well as regular worship in the temple.
Revolving fund scheme
Taking this fact into consideration, the state government has created the revolving fund scheme to regularise the daily prayers and worship, and ensure proper maintenance of religious institutions.
The director of the department of language, art and culture has been authorised to invest the amount of the revolving fund with the highest interest paying nationalised or cooperative banks in fixed deposit accounts.
A ‘change of heart’
According to political observers, Virbhadra turned towards the politics of gods and godmen last year when his government announced, on the pretext of poor security, that it would be taking over the famous Raghunath Temple in Kullu.
This had led to a war of words with the Kullu royal scion, Maheshwar Singh, who is a BJP leader. Maheshwar Singh claims to be the custodian of the temple and has said that the government has no business interfering in the matter. The issue stands unresolved before the High Court.
But what has perplexed people was the 'change of heart' that his government demonstrated in restoring land allocated to Baba Ramdev's Patanjali Yogpeeth in Sadhupul area of Solan district. The same Virbhadra government, upon assuming power in 2012, had cancelled the lease of around 28 acres, which had been granted by Prem Kumar Dhumal's BJP government.
The issue of lease of land to the to the Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust had been a major poll issue for the Congress in 2012, and was also a part of the Congress's 'chargesheet' against the Dhumal government. The party had said that there had been violation of land laws, and the piece of land, priced at Rs 35.4 crore at the time, had been given at a throwaway price.
The association game
While the people were yet to get over this U-turn by the Virbhadra government, there came the recent episode of his visiting the controversial godman Amardev at the VIP ward in Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC) in Shimla after he allegedly assaulted a woman with a sword.
The residents of 22 villages in Kandaghat area are up in arms against the controversial godman who has allegedly usurped land meant for construction of a community centre for building a temple illegally in Rurra village. He was earlier booked in a case of leopard skin recovery. Recently after the fracas with the locals, the entire staff of the Kandaghat Police Station was suspended and sent to Police Lines in Solan hours after Virbhadra met the controversial Baba.
Another instance that became the butt of many jokes on social media was when Virbhadra visited his family deity Bhimakali in Sarahan near Rampur Bushahr in Shimla instead of appearing before the Enforcement Directorate in an alleged case of money laundering in the second week of April.
“He is known to summon the deity whenever he is in trouble. He is known to be a great believer in appeasing the gods and the deities over the last three decades since he emerged at the helm of state politics,” a senior media person in Shimla said.
The wrong focus
According to him, instead of appeasing gods and godmen, Virbhadra should be focusing more on his achievements as an administrator.
“People will remember him more even for the last ditch efforts he is making to woo the electorate by announcing new medical facilities and dedicating equipment at the hospitals. He recently dedicated Rs. 1.60 crore fibro-scan machine to the people at IGMC, Shimla. Similarly he announced the up gradation of the civil hospital at Badsar in Hamirpur and also the one in Arki in Solan district in the last eight days. They will not remember him for playing up to the godmen and his personal appeasement of gods,” said a political observer in Shimla.
There is a point of view that Virbhadra is resorting to the soft Hindutva line to take on the BJP. But observers feel that this this will not lead him anywhere as the BJP is a master of the game.
Many also believe that Virbhadra should focus more on keeping his flock together and making Congress a cohesive force. Reports about his continuing differences with the state Congress chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu have hit the morale of the Congress workers on the ground. Congress workers feel that it is high time the state leadership resolves its differences and got ready for the poll battle. Else, it will be too late.