New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Himachal Pradesh unit president and three-time member of the state assembly, Satpal Singh Satti, in an interview to Mint speaks about the influence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and how the popularity of chief minister Virbhadra Singh is not a challenge in the upcoming election. Edited excerpts:
What will be the main election issues that BJP will be contesting on in this election?
Himachal Pradesh is a state where politics of development and brotherhood will be practised, which the Congress party has finished in the last five years. It has now been replaced by the politics of revenge. The party shifted its focus from development to corruption. Even the money sent by the central government was not utilised properly by the state government. We raised the issue of development and corruption while in the opposition during the past five years and will continue to do so in our campaign.
Virbhadra Singh is the face of the Congress party in the state but BJP was faceless until the party named Prem Kumar Dhumal as its chief ministerial candidate with just nine days left for voting. Why this delay?
Sometimes there are certain internal plans and strategies of the party that need to be followed. Moreover, these plans were fully discussed with Dhumalji, who was supposed to become the chief ministerial candidate eventually. Everyone in the party knew it would be him. We just had to follow our strategy and wait for the right time to make the announcement.
There was a leadership crisis in BJP, which was seen impacting the party’s electoral prospects. How will the announcement help the party now?
BJP was under the leadership of Dhumalji even when we were in the opposition. An official announcement has definitely helped boost the morale of the party cadre and our supporters. Congress had started spreading rumours about a crisis in our party which has now been put to rest.
How important will the Modi factor be in this election?
Wherever the prime minister goes the party benefits from his visit as voters do get influenced by him. Moreover, he has a special relationship with Himachal Pradesh as he has spent seven years working for BJP in the state. People feel happy that he has a connection with them and the state. Electorally, there is a 2-3% swing vote in the state which ultimately affects around 10 seats. Modi is holding rallies across the state and these will definitely help us win those seats. Modi magic will thus be instrumental in reaching BJP’s target of 50-plus seats in this election.
BJP has given tickets to over 20 new faces. Is this a strategy of the party to bring about a change in its state leadership?
Every time we sit and discuss ticket distribution BJP makes sure that young faces are given an opportunity to come forward. This is something that the prime minister has also spoken about time and again. Thus, at the national and state level, we try to promote young talent which has worked for the party. This helps us maintain a balance in the party leadership so that the young can learn from the elder leaders and party cadre feels encouraged.
Virbhadra Singh continues to be a popular chief minister despite BJP’s campaign which raises the corruption cases that have been filed against him. How big a challenge is this to the party?
We do not see this as a challenge. There is anti-incumbency against Congress as the people of the state are aware that the government has not done any development work in the state in the past five years. In turn, the focus of the state government as well as the chief minister himself in this term was to somehow use the courts so he does not have to go to jail. The aspiration of voters were not fulfilled and this will benefit BJP as they have seen our work. BJP is in power at the centre and the voter knows that if BJP forms a government in the state as well, development work will speed up. Thus in addition to anti-incumbency, we will also get the added advantage of having our party in power at the centre.