Himachal polls: Congress blunders make it a 'BJP vs Left' fight in Theog
The election to the Theog constituency in Himachal Pradesh this time will surely go down in the history of the Congress party as a textbook case of 'how not to fight an election'.
The chaos and confusion over the official candidate of the party has eventually resulted in a triangular contest where the Congress candidate Deepak Rathore is having a very tough time as he faces Rakesh Verma of the BJP and Rakesh Singha of the CPM.
It should not come as a surprise if the CPM makes an entry into the state Assembly from this seat which has approximately 70,000 voters.
Sample the Congress script –
Eight time MLA and Congress veteran Vidya Stokes decides to quit politics and wants Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh to contest from this seat. He shows some inclination but decides to contest from Arki instead.
Meanwhile, the party headquarters in Delhi decide upon Deepak Rathore as the candidate but Stokes wanted the ticket for Vijay Pal Khachi, the son of former Congress heavyweight and minister JBL Khachi.
Rathore goes on to file his nomination as the official candidate. An enraged Stokes also files her nomination that is rejected on technical grounds. After a lot of huff and puff, she withdraws and then goes on to offer support to Rathore.
All this has led to a lot of confusion and anguish in the party ranks. Thereafter both Virbhadra and Stokes have been making appeals to their supporters to vote for Rathore but a lot of water has already flown under the bridge.
“Had Madam (Stokes) not announced her retirement and filed her nomination as the official candidate, we would have won her the seat even if she slept through the campaign. Her last tenure as the MLA has been highly productive when so many educational institutions including schools and colleges have been started. We have the biggest water project of lifting water from Karpur Khud. Even Rathore is a very good candidate. He is young, dynamic and has vision. We are just paying for the mess created by the leadership,” pointed a Congress worker at the party office.
“We are definitely in the race. Rathore has the blessings of both Stokes and Virbhadra. The increase in LPG gas cylinder prices have come as a boon for us. We are giving our best,” says party worker Laik Ram Sharma.
The people do not dispute the contribution of Stokes to this constituency. “For her, it has not been politics but social work here,” says Congress worker Ashok Sharma.
Others in the fray
The man to watch out for here is the CPM candidate Rakesh Singha who is threatening to paint the constituency red. A former MLA from Shimla seat, he is a firebrand leader who hails from Kotgarh in this constituency and has worked very hard on this seat raising the people-centric issues.
This is the second time the CPM is contesting the seat. Last time Singha had come up with an impressive performance. The party is banking on votes coming from the disarray in the Congress camp apart from its own strong support base in the area.
It was the CPM that was leading the protests against the rape and murder case of 'Gudiya', the symbolic name given to the school girl who was raped and murdered in the Kotkhai area.
The BJP is also making similar claims but the people say it was the CPM that had galvanised the masses on this sensitive issue, the impact of which can still be felt when one starts talking about it.
The CPM is raising the issue of women safety in its campaign as well. The Congress is not talking about the Gudiya case and says that the opposition is trying to draw political mileage from it. The BJP claims that it wants justice in the matter but does not want to politicise it.
Again, it has been the CPM leading the marginal farmers on the issue of getting ownership rights of the apple orchards that they have developed on forest land over the years. This is a very complex issue that saw the Himachal Pradesh High Court ordering evictions and chopping of apple trees on encroached forest land in 2015 following a PIL.
The legal proceedings have been on in the matter in which the CPM's farmer wing the Kisan Sabha is a party now.
“This is an issue that falls in the concurrent list and the governments in the state and the Centre have not been sincere towards the farmers. We have been demanding that those who had developed orchards over up to five bighas of land should be given ownership rights. In 2002 the BJP government had asked the farmers to submit affidavits following which it had promised to regularize these encroachments but nothing came of it. There are around 3,700 people whose livelihoods depend on these orchards that they have developed on the forest land. It is the Kisan Sabha that has been fighting for them,” says Sohan Thakur, a CPM worker.
The BJP candidate Rakesh Verma is also a political heavyweight who has represented this constituency twice as an independent in the state Assembly. This time he is the official candidate of the party.
“His fighting as the party candidate adds on to his chances as both his personal support base and the BJP cadre will ensure his win with a big margin. He has got several developmental projects executed during his tenure as an independent MLA. These include the water supply projects and developing a road network in the area,” claims local BJP leader Amar Singh.
Why Theog matters
Theog has come a long way on the path of development and it has always been craving for more. This primarily rural constituency is said to be at the top in Asia for growing non-seasonal vegetables. The farmers want a soil testing laboratory and technical guidance from the government besides the latter procuring their produce. They want LPG gas cylinders to be delivered at their doorstep.
Those living in Theog town are awaiting construction of the new bus stand, the foundation stone for which was laid in 1997. The old bus stand building crumbled recently in which four people were killed.
Suresh Verma, the Pradhan of Deolighat Panchayat spelled out the aspirations of the people when he says that right from improving the road network to an optimum deputation of staff in power and health departments, the people must get the basic amenities. He explained why the farmers would prefer to go with the Left this time. The place is also awaiting completion of the 100-bed hospital.
This is a seat where issues are dominating the routine rhetoric. The people here want that it should be the local issues and foresight of the local leaders that should dictate the political discourse. They believe that Himachal does not need a 'Modi Model' or a 'Gujarat Model' as it is quite capable of putting forth a 'Himachal Model' before the country.