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Himachal polls: Congress & BJP step up offensive, Virbhadra dares high command

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 September 2017, 15:59 IST
(Deepak Sansta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

As the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls approach, politics in the small hill state has started shifting gears. The two main parties -- Congress and BJP – are becoming more aggressive with each passing day.

Upping the ante against the Congress government led by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, the BJP has launched a 'Hisab Mange Himachal' (Himachal seeks accountability campaign) from September 12. The party will try to make optimum use of the social networking sites to reach out to the voters. The central leadership of the BJP will be sending four national level leaders to address the media before September 20 to attack the Congress government.

Launching the campaign, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra came out with a chargesheet against the Virbhadra government, accusing it of running a regime in which corruption is rampant. The leaders questioned the failure of the Congress government in curbing the forest and mining mafia besides playing up the arrest of the police officials in the custodial death case that had followed the rape and murder of a schoolgirl in Kotkhai area of Shimla district in July.

Patra claimed that the things had gone from bad to worse during Virbhadra's tenure, with the chief minister himself facing cases of corruption. He added that drug, transfer and timber mafias are also active in the state. He charged that in the last four years over 30,000 cases of illegal mining were detected amounting to losses worth Rs 2400 crore. Similarly the drug mafia has carried out illegal trade worth Rs 900 crore.

He reportedly alleged that cases of illegal chopping of forest are pending in the area of forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmauri which proves that forest mafia is protected by the administration and officials.

State BJP president Satpal Singh Satti said a massive outdoor and media advertising campaign is being undertaken to spread make this campaign a success.

Satti disclosed that after the briefing by Dhumal and Patra, the other briefings would highlight the crimes against women, anti-development stand of the state government and initiatives of the Narendra Modi led central government for the state and the last one would focus on problems faced by the youth.

This campaign follows the 'Parivartan Yatras' undertaken by the BJP Leaders in all the 68 constituencies of the state.

Congress’ counter-offensive

Not to take the charges lying down, the Congress fielded industries minister and a former journalist Mukesh Agnihotri along with excise and taxation minister Prakash Chaudhary to counter the BJP. They have lambasted Patra for airing 'baseless, wild and false' allegations against Virbhadra pointing that the latter is being targeted out of vengeance.

Agnihotri and Chaudhary said that the wild allegations of the BJP leader only reflected the party's frustration and desperation as the graph of overall development and popularity of Virbhadra is soaring day by day. They said that having failed in their attempts to corner the Virbhadra the BJP leadership is now inviting its central leaders to target him.

Taking a dig at the 'Hisab Mange Himachal' campaign, the two ministers said that first of all the Modi government should give 'Hisab" of its 'Chunavi Jumle' like the aims of demonetisation, promise to bring back black money, Make in India campaign, Lokpal etc. They said the fact is that the price of petrol has gone up to Rs 76 per litre, LPG cylinder has scaled from Rs. 398 to Rs 784, prices of pulses has reached to Rs 170 per kg and GDP from has fallen from 7.9 per cent during UPA regime to 5.7 per cent during the Modi government.

They underlined that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) annual report says that 99 per cent of the demonetised currency has come back into the system, which means the Modi government propagated falsehood in the name of tackling black money and people of the country were made to suffer.

The ministers asked Patra that why he is silent on the brutal murder of a child in a famous school in Gurugram and the mayhem created in Panchkula and Sirsa recently due to failure and inaction of the BJP government in Haryana. Similarly, they asked why BJP leaders are silent on the death of hundreds of children in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. They advised Patra to enjoy the hospitality of the BJP leaders of the Himachal and not unnecessarily comment on the political issues of the state about which he has no knowledge. They said that Patra should rather worry about the BJP ruled states where scams worth thousands of crores are being reported.

With the campaign tempo picking up, a bitter battle can be predicted for a majority of the constituencies. Being a small and sparsely populated state, personal rapport of politicians carries a lot of weight in Himachal.

For now both the Congress and the BJP will first have to overcome their internal wrangling. For the Congress, the fireworks continue on daily basis with Virbhadra now saying that the Congress' general secretary in-charge for the state Sushil Kumar Shinde's word is not the final one regarding party affairs in Himachal Pradesh. This was his reaction to the recent reports about Shinde ruling out the replacing state unit chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu at Virbhadra’s behest. The Congress is also carrying the baggage of anti-incumbency in the state, which has a trend not re-electing incumbents.

Another setback that has come for the Congress on Wednesday is the Supreme Court reportedly staying the process of government takeover of Raghunath Temple in Kullu barely two weeks after the Himachal Pradesh High Court had paved the way for the takeover.

A sitting MLA from the Himachal Lokhit Party that merged into the BJP last year and scion of the erstwhile Kullu royal family, Maheshwar Singh, is the caretaker of the temple. He has filed a special leave petition challenging the Himachal High Court’s order of August 31 rejecting his petition challenging the state government notification of July 26, 2016 taking over the temple administration.

The state government exercised its powers under the Himachal Pradesh Hindu Public Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1984 to take control and management of the temple. But Maheshwar has been contending that the shrine is a private property and the rules of natural justice have not been followed in the takeover. He has claimed that the royal family has been traditionally taking care of the temple.

First published: 14 September 2017, 15:59 IST