Himachal polls: A family entertainer with a dash of red in the offing in Solan
The electoral contest in the reserved Solan constituency often referred to as the Mushroom City as well as the City of Red Gold (tomatoes), is a complex family affair and definitely a potboiler featuring the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with a dash of masala coming from the Left.
The sitting social justice minister Colonel (Retired) Dhani Ram Shandil of the Congress is facing a challenge from his son-in-law Dr Rajesh Kashyap of the BJP who also happens to be the brother of the sitting local BJP Lok Sabha member Virendra Kashyap.
And in all this, it is the CPM that has fielded its 26-year-old candidate Ajay Bhatti for the first time on this seat and is trying to give a new dimension to the traditional politics there.
A substantial number of voters are annoyed at the fact that the Congress and the BJP have tried to ensure that all political power remains within one family.
The constituency has an electorate of around 79,000 where male voters outnumber their female counterparts by a slender margin. It covers the town of Solan which is number one in terms of growth registered among the cities of Himachal.
But at the same time, it also spells out how the lack of policy interventions can make development 'lopsided' in real terms if not a pure economic one. There is a proper rural-urban mix in this constituency where around 49% voters are from the former category.
For the urban areas, the issues that are of prime concern now are – managing the huge population influx that has come in from not only across the state but also various parts of the country making it a cosmopolitan place. The job avenues, moderate weather conditions and mushrooming of educational institutions are the main reasons for this influx. There are three universities including the YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry and a number of colleges including a dental, a law college and a government Sanskrit college in this constituency.
Solan was the centre of administration of the princely state of Baghat and has a saying attributed to it that goes, “Jisne paani piya Baghat ka, who ghar ka na ghat ka (Whosoever drinks the water of Baghat has to return to this place).”
And there seems to be a lot of truth in the saying since one can come across people from all ethnicities residing in the area.
With the administration grappling to keep pace with the immigration, the shortfalls in provision of basic amenities and infrastructure are acutely visible. The residents are often getting drinking water supply once in every five to seven days.
The roads are choked for the most part of the day because of ever-growing traffic. There is a dire scarcity of parking spaces. The inadequate public health set up is also a major problem. The town is also grappling with sewerage problems. The menace of illegal construction right under the nose of the local authorities and the lower judiciary is also a major issue.
Durlabh Singh Puri who is an innovator, a photographer and a keen observer of things has explained the urban issues comprehensively pointing that they are raised time and again but never addressed fully.
In terms of rural issues, the biggest is that of employment. The area is known for its cash crop of peas, tomato and also the stone fruit. But as the CPM candidate Bhatti points out –
– The lack of food processing units
– Failure of the government to fix and pay a Minimum Support Price (MSP)
– Problem of water availability for irrigation
– The menace of monkeys and several other minor problems make it non-lucrative for the youth.
The CPM has been concentrating mainly on the rural voters on these issues. Its Kisan Sabha has made inroads in the rural areas by taking up these issues at regular intervals.
But die-hard Congress workers like Baldev Thakur, who is the Pradhan of Nauni village that has bagged several awards for its performance in sanitation and other progressive measures, have a different take on some of these issues.
“Making optimum use of food processing units would be a challenge because the production of cash crops is seasonal. The problem of irrigation can be solved by installing motors alongside the existing hand pumps to draw underground water. We are working on a long-term solution to tackle the monkey menace,” he says.
Shandil has listed a multi-specialty hospital and a multi-storeyed parking as his top priorities for the town while continuing to bring developmental projects to the rural areas which also includes interlinking the villages with Jeep tracks if he is elected again.
His supporters are distributing a booklet that lists the details of work done during his tenure as the local MLA and cabinet minister. His easy accessibility and popularity across the constituency comes as his biggest advantage. The baggage of anti-incumbency is his biggest hindrance.
Others in the fray
The BJP candidate Kashyap has entered the fray as a 'parachute candidate' which remains his biggest handicap. But he comes forth as a well-educated medical professional who was teaching in the Indira Gandhi Medical College in Shimla.
Besides playing up the central schemes in his campaign, Kashyap is promising –
– An expansion of the fruit and vegetable mandi in Solan
– Establishing a mandi in Kandaghat
– Ensuring proper deployment of doctors in government health facilities and teachers in government educational institutions
– Addressing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) concerns of traders
– Establishing a Transport Nagar and developing a new tourism circuit
The CPM has given a new dimension to the contest by fielding a youngster like Bhatti. Bhatti is talking about issues that no one is raising like –
– Proper facilities for sportspersons
– An auditorium for cultural artistes in the town
He is also talking at length about the issues concerning the farmers, the exploitation of employees in the private sector, the fleecing of parents by private educational institutes, inflation, exploitation of villagers by godmen etc.
Bhatti has a band of youngsters campaigning for him. The CPM wants to make an entry and gradually consolidate on its support base through this election which till now has been scattered in various corners. Bhatti has been getting a good response in the rural areas.
With Shandil having a very slight edge at this point of time, the remains to be seen how the drama unfolds in this constituency.