Even as the winter sets, the political temperature is rising in the hilly State of Himachal Pradesh. The ruling BJP is making a determined bid to retain power by debunking the past trend; the Congress hopes to make a comeback. In an exclusive interview with Organiser National News Coordinator Nishant Kumar Azad in Shimla, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur said that for the first time, Himachal is witnessing pro-incumbency. With the slogan of Raj Nahin, Riwaaz Badlenge, we are coming back to power with a full majority. Excerpts:
What is Bharatiya Janata Party’s key agenda to seek votes in the Assembly polls?
Our agenda has always been development and public welfare. In the last five years, despite the COVID–19 pandemic, we have done a lot of development work. We have done things, which even the six-time Chief Minister of Congress could not do. For the first time, Ayushman and Himcare schemes were introduced for the free treatment of people. For the first time, Sahara Yojana is being run for needy people. Free gas connections are being given to poor people under the Ujjwala and Grihini Suvidha Yojana for the first time. Shagun Yojna was introduced for the first time, and financial assistance of Rs 31,000 is being given for the marriage of daughters of BPL families. The Swavalamban scheme was started for the first time to make the youth self-reliant. All these schemes were started for the first time, and Rs 1,033 crore has been spent on them. There are more than 10 lakh beneficiaries of these schemes. We can confidently say that this much work has been done in a single tenure.
But the Opposition says that no work has been done in the last five years.
There is no Assembly constituency in which development works worth more than Rs 150-200 crore have not been done. While allotting development work, we did not look at the political affiliation of a particular MLA. You will see that many Congress MLAs have posted on Facebook that works worth Rs 200 crore have been done in their area. So, how did this happen? We have moved ahead on the basic mantra of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayas. We do not do politics of discrimination and favouritism.
Do you think after five years in power, the BJP is facing anti-incumbency in Himachal Pradesh?
As far as anti-incumbency is concerned, Himachal Pradesh is witnessing pro-incumbency for the first time. I have been working among people and visited each and every Assembly constituency three to four times in the last four-and-a-half years. Apart from rallies and meetings, I kept on meeting people. If you travel across the State, you will find that there is not a single issue that has created resentment among the people. Even Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are not able to raise any issue against us.
‘The long-overdue decision to accord tribal status to the Hattis is an achievement. We have not done this for political gains. I am happy that the cause we have been fighting for since 1967 has been taken to the logical conclusion’
Himachal Pradesh has a tradition of voting out the existing Government. A second consecutive term for the party in power has been a rarity in the State. How do you see this?
Dekhiye tradition bane hain to kabhi wo tradition tutte bhi hain. Our slogan in the elections is Raj Nahin, Riwaaz Badlenge (Not power, but the custom of alternating power will change). We are coming back to power with a full majority.
The result of bypolls in the State was not in favour of the BJP. The party lost all four seats by big margins. Don’t you think that the results of bypolls will have an impact on the current Assembly polls? What gives you the confidence to win the upcoming Assembly election?
There is a different atmosphere during the Assembly elections, while bypolls are fought on other issues. In the Mandi Lok Sabha seat, Congress sought sympathy votes in the name of a departed leader. Consequently, we also did some experiments in some Assembly seats. So the results were not in our favour at that time. A year has passed since those elections.
‘The ticket distribution mechanism in the BJP is very different from other parties. We have given tickets based on many factors, multiple surveys and winnability. Many rebels have indeed filed their nomination papers this time, but this will not make a big impact‘
Presently, you can see how positive the atmosphere is for the present BJP Government. The work of a double-engine Government gives us confidence, and people are with us.
Your opponents blame the BJP has failed to control inflation and creating job opportunities. They also alleged that there is a rise in corruption in your tenure.
Inflation and unemployment are complex and intertwined subjects. There has traditionally been an inverse correlation between inflation and unemployment. If the opposition has so much understanding of inflation, then why did they not stop the inflation rate from rising in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan? Inflation is troubling the world today, and I believe this period will not last long. We have made sincere efforts to provide employment. For five years, we kept filling vacant posts in various Government departments. We started the Swavalamban scheme. Today, in Himachal Pradesh, more than ten thousand people have got employment through this scheme.
Apart from this, we have organised investor meets and two ground-breaking ceremonies to generate employment in the private sector. Despite the pandemic, we have been able to provide employment to about sixty thousand people in Government and private sectors. If there was no pandemic, this figure would have been higher. We aim to employ maximum youth, and this process will continue when we return to power. Projects like Bulk Drug Park and medical device parks will be big game-changers.
Please tell us more about the project. How it will benefit the State?
Well, when the pandemic struck, there was a shortage of medicines. As a result, black-marketing of medicines was rampant. The reason for the shortage was due to our dependence on China for API (active pharmaceutical ingredients). Due to the pandemic, the supply was hit. PM Modi gave thought to preparing raw materials in India instead of buying them from other countries. And the only way out was to set up a drug park that would help reduce dependence on China. In an evaluation by the Centre, Himachal was placed at number one when bids for three bulk drug pharma projects were invited. The park will provide a huge impetus to the socio-economic development of the entire region. It would not only meet the demand of the pharma industry of the State but cater to the demand from across the country. Setting up the Bulk Drug Park would help reduce India’s dependency on China for raw materials. This is an important project for a small State like Himachal Pradesh.
The BJP has denied tickets to 11 MLAs, including a Minister and shifted the constituencies of two Ministers. Your rivals allege that the BJP has sensed defeat. What’s your take on this?
Look, this happens in all elections. The ticket distribution mechanism in the BJP is very different from other parties. We have given tickets based on many factors, multiple surveys and winnability. Many rebels have indeed filed their nomination papers, this time, but this will not make a big impact. Things are under control. Today when the Opposition has no issue, they are talking senseless and pointless.
With new-found confidence after the Punjab elections, AAP is also trying its hand in Himalayan politics. How much of a threat is AAP to the BJP?
Jab inhone Punjab jeeta tha, tab inka hosla badha tha lekin jaldi hi woh expose ho gae (When they won the Punjab Assembly elections, they were high on energy, but soon they got exposed and their true face came to the fore). The misdeeds and corruption by big Ministers of AAP are making headlines every day. The AAP has no standing in Himachal Pradesh.
‘It was Congress who snatched the status of special State from Himachal. But when the Modi-led BJP Government was formed at the Centre, the State got back the special status’
The Congress has promised to provide 300 units of electricity free to household consumers and Rs 1,500 to women every month. The AAP, too, has promised 300 units of power free to household consumers and Rs 1,000 to women every month. Are you in favour or against the ‘freebies’ based populist announcements of the AAP and the Congress?
There is a difference between welfare and revdi or ‘freebies’. For example, today, electricity is a need of every person. On an average, poor households spend 100 to 120 units of electricity a month. A financially well-off family spends an average of 200 to 300 units. We have tried to help the poor because it is their need.
We are providing 125 units of free electricity. It is a relief for certain sections of society whose consumption is limited. Broadly, low-income families (for example, those who use three bulbs and consume around 60 units) and middle-class families (for instance, those who use six bulbs and consume around 120 units) are covered under this. We also provide women with a 50 per cent discount on bus fares. But, mind you, this is discount, not free travel.
On the other hand, Congress does not want to help the poor. For example, its leaders are promising that women will be given money every month. But why have they not given a similar scheme in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where they are already in power? The answer is that the Congress leaders know they will not be able to give all this, but they are still making false promises. But the people of Himachal are wise enough. They know everyone’s intention.
The Old Pension Scheme (OPS) has become a major poll issue here. Right from Congress to AAP, both have announced the restoration of OPS in Himachal if they come to power. Both parties had already announced the implementation of OPS in their ruling States. A group of several Government employees have been protesting and demanding the implementation of the OPS. Don’t you think it will create trouble for BJP’s electoral prospects?
I want to ask Congress which was in power when OPS was voluntarily closed down. It was Virbhadra Singh who did it in 2003. Why did he not restore OPS when he again returned to power in 2012? He implemented NPS from the back date. Even then, Virbhadra Singh kept saying that restoring OPS is not practical and the financial burden cannot be sustained by a small hill State of meagre resources.
‘Projects like Bulk Drug and Medical Device Parks will be big game-changers. The park would provide a huge impetus to the socio-economic development of the entire region. Setting up the Bulk Drug Park would help reduce India’s dependency on China for pharma raw materials’
But we understood the problem of the employees and made the provision of family pension from the back date for the employees coming under NPS. Our Government made a provision of more than Rs 700 crore for this.
Two Congress Governments – Rajasthan and Chattisgarh –which have taken in principle decisions, are now asking for the Centre’s help. None of the Congress Governments, so far, have implemented OPS. Congress is only spreading lies about OPS while we are considering this demand sensitively and seriously. The people no longer trust Congress. It has never fulfilled any of its promises, be it a “job to every member of the family”, unemployment allowance to youths or loan waivers.
We are trying to find a practical solution regarding the issue of OPS. It is a fact that no State can implement OPS in a true sense without the help of the Central Government.
‘OPS was stopped during the Congress regime in 2003. Why did Virbhadra Singh not restore OPS when he returned to power in 2012? He kept saying that restoring OPS is not practical. Congress is only spreading lies about OPS while we are trying
to find a practical solution to this issue‘
A large section of Himachal Pradesh lives in deprivation due to difficult geographical conditions. What did your Government do for them?
Jo Gareeb hain, Hum Unke Kareeb hain, (we are close to the poorest of the poor). We have acted in this spirit. The job of the Government is to make people’s lives easier. Those who are in need should be taken care of first. That’s what we did. Today, about seven-and-a-half lakh people are being given pensions. In the Congress Government, pension was given from the age of 70 years. Our Government reduced the age of eligibility to 60 years. They used to spend Rs 400 crore annually; we are spending Rs 1,300 crore. Apart from this, we did not leave any stone unturned in development of the hill State.
Let me also give you another example. Himachal Pradesh had 7.63 lakh domestic tap connections as of December 2017. In the last three years alone, 8.65 lakh new tap connections were installed under the Jal Jeevan Mission so that water could be supplied through taps. In the last five years, 5,854 km of roads were constructed under PMGSY. For this, an amount of Rs 2,733 crore was approved by the Centre. Has anyone ever thought that such a big development work could have been done by one Government and that too in difficult times like COVID-19?
The Opposition is saying that if you had worked for the people, PM Modi should not have come here time and again.
Modi ji is our leader. Our double-engine Government works under his leadership and guidance. The Prime Minister considers Himachal Pradesh as his second home, and the people of Devbhoomi also return the same love to him. Congress is troubled by this fact. It does not have any leader who understands Himachal.
On the contrary, when the Congress Government was at the Centre, it not only reduced the duration of the industrial package given by Atal ji but also snatched the special status of Himachal. But Modi ji again gave that special status to the State. Apart from this, Modi Government gave medical colleges, Bilaspur AIIMS, Bulk Drug Park, and Medical Device Park, etc. In return for these gifts, the people of Himachal will give him a historic victory. Congress has also understood this, so now it has started targeting the PM.
The Centre has launched several initiatives for the beautification of religious sites. Do you have something in mind on this line related to Himachal?
Yes, we have already started working on this line. Shiv Dham is being constructed at Kangani Dhar near Mandi town at an estimated cost of over Rs 200 crore. The work of the first phase is about to complete. The work of the second phase of Shiv Dham would be started soon after completing all the formalities. This is an ambitious project, and with this, Mandi would emerge firmly on the religious-cultural tourism map of the country. We are also working to develop important religious sites under Asian Development Bank infrastructure development project.
In September this year, the Union Cabinet approved a Constitution Amendment Bill that seeks to grant tribal status to the Hatti community living in the trans-Giri region of Himachal Pradesh. Will the move help BJP to garner votes of the community in the coming polls?
We have not done this for political gains. But, yes, the long-overdue decision to accord tribal status to the Hattis is an achievement. I am happy that the cause we have been fighting for since 1967 has been taken to the logical conclusion.