Himachal polls: With its historical importance for BJP, Palampur reflects how the party has transformed
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has surely come a long way from its claim of being a 'party with a difference' to a 'party of differences'. And what else can amplify this better than the Assembly constituency of Palampur in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh?
The place has a special significance in the history of the saffron party, particularly its growth across the Indian spectrum in the last three decades. After all, it was the Palampur resolution of BJP's historic executive meet of 1989 where the party came out to get affiliated with the saints running the Ram Janambhoomi movement.
This was also the time they came to an alliance with the Shiv Sena that was till then the main Hindu political party. And, the rest is history.
Today it is the same Palampur that is reflecting the transformation of BJP from a disciplined party to something much worse.
In the current elections, the party's official candidate Indu Goswamy is facing a stiff challenge, not only from the young Congress candidate Ashish Butail, but more significantly from the BJP rebel Praveen Sharma. This very interesting scenario needs to be deconstructed.
The devil in the details
To begin with, it is the veteran BJP leader and former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar who is perhaps facing the biggest political dilemma of his life. On one side is Indu, the official candidate, who is close to none other than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and on the other is his protege Praveen who has refused to budge from his position despite scores of BJP leaders lining up before him to withdraw his candidature.
This dilemma is also getting reflected among the BJP cadre. It came as a surprise to this reporter when he was told by staunch BJP voters in the rural parts of the constituency that while their party loyalty remains with the BJP, their candidate this time is Praveen.
It was an experience to see the septuagenarian father of an acquaintance put up the BJP flag on one side of the entrance to his house and that of Praveen on the other side. And this is the scene not only in one house but scores of them.
The same was witnessed though numerous posters that were put up on the day Modi was to address a rally in favour of Indu. These posters read, “Modiji Palampur mein aapka aadar satkar hai, par hamara neta Praveen Kumar hai (You are respectfully most welcome to Palampur but our candidate is Praveen Kumar.)”
“It is Praveen who has nurtured this constituency all these years. He is the one sharing our joys and sorrows. It is our duty to stand with him. Such an attitude from the central leadership will not be tolerated,” said an old resident of Maulichak village.
It is well known that Shanta Kumar had put his foot down for a ticket for both Kishan Kapoor in Dharamshala and Praveen in Palampur. While Kapoor got it, Praveen was denied the same.
BJP sources disclosed that Indu came in fourth in the internal survey ranking of the party which was done to zero in on the party candidate. It was Modi who insisted on a ticket for her giving the pretext of encouraging 'Matrushakti' in the party.
Locals disclosed that the party had been ignoring Praveen for long. He was not asked to share the stage during prime events. “He is a former party MLA and a three-time contestant. He deserves some respect,” pointed out a restaurant owner in Palampur city.
Pick a side please!
The BJP poll managers are just hoping that the party cadres eventually decide upon voting for the official candidate. They got rattled by the fact that not only did people react instantaneously when Praveen was denied the ticket, they also collected lakhs of rupees for him to contest as an independent.
“We are hopeful that things will eventually turn our way,” said a BJP functionary who has been affiliated with the party over the last four decades.
To make matters worse for the BJP, Indu carries the tag of an outsider as she belongs to the neighbouring Baijnath constituency that is now reserved. And on top of that, the word had initially gone around that she was a potential chief ministerial candidate.
The BJP workers are now seeking votes for Indu saying that both the former Congress MLA BBL Butail and Praveen, who were elected over the last three times, did nothing for the constituency.
“While Butail remained at loggerheads with Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, Praveen too did not get along with former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. The result has been disastrous for this prime constituency,” said a BJP old timer.
Indu has been campaigning saying that she will be responsible for the development of Palampur. The BJP workers say that after Shanta established an agricultural university in Palampur in 1977, no other project of this size has come to Palampur.
All in the family
The split between Indu and Praveen gives some comfort to the Congress candidate Ashish who is a first timer as he has been given the ticket in place of his father BBL Butail. The other person vying for the Congress ticket was none other than Ashish's nephew Gokul Butail who has been the Information Technology adviser to Virbhadra.
This is the third generation of the politically well-entrenched Butail family that is contesting a poll on the Congress ticket. The family's local connect is a big advantage for Ashish. But the phenomenon of dynasty politics at work has also miffed a lot of Congress workers.
While the locals give credit to Ashish's father for improving the health services considerably in the constituency in terms of upgrading of Primary Health Centres and doubling the capacity of the local government hospital from 100 to 200 beds, they also complain of him not having done anything to address the parking woes of the residents of Palampur town.
Indu is laying a lot of emphasis on developing religious and eco-tourism in the constituency besides improving the infrastructure and water supply.
One thing is for sure that the battle this time in Palampur will redefine the local politics besides giving a signal of national importance to the BJP. The candidates of both the parties are debutant who are up against an independent who is no pushover.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen