Shimla: Anurag Thakur , parliamentarian from Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh and son of state chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is busy campaigning for state assembly elections due on 4 November. He spoke in an interview about developmental work undertaken by the administration and the coming polls. Edited excerpts:
What are the issues on which BJP is contesting the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections?
Development in the last five years and the progress of Himachal that has taken place during the BJP rule. Every household is happy with the development of the state, whereas Congress at the centre has given price rise and inflation. Our government has given subsidized ration up to Rs.700 crore. Daily wages have increased from Rs.75 to Rs.150, pension from Rs.200 to Rs.450. For the youth we have given more than 275,000 jobs in the private and the government sectors. Women have been given 50% reservation in panchayats (local councils). For every girl born, we pay Rs.10,000 to the family. Education for girls is free. Our schemes have actually benefited common men and households.
Is development the central plank?
Yes. Whatever we promised, we delivered. In the next five years, we are going to fulfil promises made in our common minimum programme. We are promising to increase daily wages from Rs.150 to Rs.250, pensions from Rs.450 to Rs.650 and free pilgrimage once in five years on government expenses. We have given Rs.8,500 crore in benefits to government employees, so there is a group of around 10 lakh (one million) people who have got direct benefits. Farmers will get loans at 2%, youth of the state will be given loans at 2% and given 10 lakh jobs in the next five years.
The anti-incumbency factor has always dominated Himachal politics. The Congress and the BJP take turns to form governments. How will you tackle it?
There is no anti-incumbency and I think that’s the best part this time. Every household feels that we have given something to them, when the Congress has given them inflation and corruption.
You accuse the Central government of being biased against the BJP-ruled Himachal government?
Step motherly treatment by the Congress-ruled central government is the third issue in this election. (Former prime minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s (BJP) government gave a special industrial package for Himachal Pradesh, which the Congress has taken back. We have fought the case of royalty for Himachal Pradesh in the Supreme Court. We won the case but despite that they have not released Rs.4,500 crore. No money has been granted to maintain the national highways in the state.
It is often said that in Himachal it’s an election between Virbhadra Singh of the Congress and the BJP?
I don’t agree. Virbhadra Singh has a number of corruption cases against him. Charges have been framed against him. He has stepped down as a cabinet minister. He is unable to answer about bribes paid to him by Ispat Industries, land sold to a big private player through which he has earned million of rupees and increased orchard land income from Rs.2 lakh to Rs.5.5 crore.
But Virbhadra Singh has been chief minister five times.
You should also not forget that he has lost the MLA (member of the legislative assembly) election. We have beaten him twice. Once in 1997 and second in 2007. And this time he is going to lose his assembly seat.
How do you tackle infighting within the BJP? State party leaders are unhappy and it is said that tickets were given to people who are close to chief minister Dhumal?
The (central) leadership has made everyone work. Shanta Kumar, (J.P.) Nadda or anyone else is working for the party. As far as selection of the candidates is concerned, it is done by the central high command, where we have no say. We have tried to pick the best candidate wherever possible. We are fighting the elections on the plank of development.
How many seats do you expect to win?
I think we will win 46 seats (out of a total 68). Three will go to independents and I don’t think Congress will go beyond 20. They will win in bits and pieces where they have strong candidates.
Small parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), independents and a breakaway faction of BJP have joined the fray. Do you think they will dent Congress or BJP votes?
Himachal is purely between BJP and Congress. Maybe five or six seats will be affected because independents are strong candidates and they have long political careers behind them. They may be able to make a dent on either of the parties.
Recently, the Left parties caused a surprise by winning mayoral elections in Shimla. It’s believed that Virbhadra Singh, whose stronghold is Shimla and nearby areas, actually helped these candidates win as he was sidelined in the state and the centre by the Congress party.
See there is lot of infighting going on within the Congress party. Charges against Virbadhra were framed on the basis of a CD given by another Congress leader Major Vijay Singh Mankoita. Virbhadra Singh directly blamed Kaul Singh (former state party chief) and his relatives for the sale of land. Another senior Congress leader Asha Kumari said Virbadhra Singh is not a chief ministerial candidate. She said we had no choice as on one side we had devil and another side we have deep sea. They have no clarity who will be their candidate. I think Congress is in a deep mess.
Do you think there is a shift in the voters’ approach, especially among the youth? Do you think it is a traditional election or larger poll dynamics are at play?
I think overall there is a shift. People are voting. People are thinking about how corruption has taken place in the country and how the Congress has looted people. They all want development, employment and want to contribute to nation-building. So youth are the largest stakeholders and they need to play a larger role. Youth will play an important role in the elections. They have seen our government and they will vote for us.
But isn’t it true that there are 10 lakh educated and unemployed youth in Himachal Pradesh?
See, this is a problem in every state and Congress is responsible for it. The growth rate has come down from 8.5% to 5.5% in the last eight years. In Vajpayee’s time we had created 620 million jobs whereas Congress figure is only 20 million.
You can’t entirely blame the union government.
Who takes policy decisions? It is the central government. The money comes from them. They have a corrupt face and no clearcut policy. Even the foreign companies that had invested in India have withdrawn (funds) from the system. Indian companies are investing abroad rather than in India.
How are you going to increase employment in the state?
This will be done through the industrialisation, horticulture, agriculture and self-employment (programmes) that we have done in the past five years. The agriculture sector grew from Rs300 crore to Rs2,500 crore in the last five years. Milk production has gone up 10 times. Things are improving fast. We don’t want Himachalis to migrate to cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh. We are providing them the best education, infrastructure and health system so that they stay in Himachal and earn a decent living.
You talk about creating infrastructure and generating employment but there are at least 30-35 proposed power projects that have failed to take off in the last few years.
It takes time because the centre does not give permission due to environment reasons. As far as Himachal is concerned, we are a power-surplus state and give electricity to other states. In the next three years, we will be increasing power production to more than 10,000 megawatts (MW), which is huge. In the next seven to eight years, we will touch 15,000 MW. But we all know how the system works in India because of bureaucracy and environment laws. Things should change now.