The hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, which goes to polls in the last phase of General Elections on May 13, is generally regarded as a politically calm region of the country. Here, politicians usually focus on real issues, whether in public or on discussion tables.
However, as in every state, here too problems plaguing the people are nearly identical – corruption, unemployment, lack of proper infrastructure, especially in the higher reaches etc.
Just days after the announcement of the polls, the BJP government in the state, led by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, had made it clear that it would leave no stone unturned in targeting the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre.
He has castigated the UPA government for failing to curb terrorism in the country. Further, in the wake of the global economic recession, he held the UPA accountable for formulating wrong policies that triggered unemployment, price rise, and an overall economic slowdown.
The state BJP has said it would go to the voters seeking support on the development done by the Dhumal government over the past year since coming to power. It has also pledged to uncover before the electorate the injustice meted out to Himachal Pradesh ever since the BJP government came to power.
The BJP has also accused the Central government, led by the Congress, of fooling the voters by not revealing the factual position as regards the economy due to the Lok Sabha elections. Dhumal alleged that the Centre had not released the results of a survey on job loss, fearing it would negatively impact its prospects.
The BJP has further blamed the UPA regime for the rise in unemployment, saying the problem had only grown from bad to worse due to the failure of the Centre to formulate and properly implement employment generating schemes, some of which were either put in cold storage or got curtailed allocation of funds. The Golden Quadrilateral project and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna have been cited as two examples in that regard.
Dhumal said that the Congress-led government at the Centre had curtailed the period of industrial package granted to Himachal Pradesh by the NDA regime, from 2013 to 2010. The issue has also started worrying the state Congress, which has acknowledged that the tax holiday was bringing in industries from neighbouring states like Punjab and Haryana. The issue, especially in the midst of the economic slowdown and the rampant fear of job losses, could prove to be a death knell for the Congress here, analysts say.
On the unemployment front, the state BJP government has boasted of creating 28,000 new government jobs. It however, is locked in a war of words with the Congress, which alleges that there were 11 lakh unemployed persons in the state. The government however differs, and stated that the actual number of unemployed persons was about 7 lakh, which comes down to just 5 lakh taking into account other parameters.
In a tit-for-tat, Dhumal has accused the Congress of being responsible for the rising unemployment in the state. According to the CM, the tax holiday, which has now been curtailed by the UPA, was generating employment opportunities in the state.
Further, according to Dhumal, the state had received no financial assistance from the Centre for relief and rehabilitation work despite suffering losses to the tune of over Rs 2,000 crore due to heavy rain and floods.
The BJP, vying to take all the four Lok Saha seats, has claimed speeding up of development activities in the state.
The Congress has tried to tackle the BJP’s claim of Himachal being given a step-motherly treatment by the Centre, by listing out the projects sanctioned by the UPA government, including an IIT, Central University, ESI hospital and medical college, SAIL project and Institute of Fashion Technology.
However, the state BJP has rejected them as nothing significant, instead claiming the projects as the results of their sustained efforts.
The BJP is also planning to take up the issue of withdrawal of state’s rice quota and non-acceptance of demand for state’s higher share in recruitments to Army and paramilitary forces when it approaches voters to seek support.
Dhumal has already described the upcoming polls as a “referendum on the UPA government’s failures to control prices, unemployment, corruption and terrorism, beside the state’s 15-month impressive BJP rule”.
Besides the BJP-Congress war, the dispute over the distribution of water from the Sutlej and Yamuna rivers will also be an issue to fight elections over in the state.
Six North Indian states – Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, and Punjab, apart from Himachal Pradesh – are locked in a battle over sharing of the Sutlej and Yamuna waters, and the issue – hanging fire since July 2004 – is currently in the Supreme Court.
The controversy began after the Punjab government in July 2004 enacted the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 and unilaterally terminated its agreement on water sharing with the five neighbouring states.
The then Congress government said the terms of the 1981 agreement had "become onerous, unfair, unreasonable and contrary to the interests of the inhabitants of Ravi-Beas basin, who have lawful rights to utilise the water of the two rivers. Even though Haryana and Rajasthan are neither riparian nor basin states, they have continued to utilise Ravi Beas waters."
States other than Punjab, including Himachal Pradesh, strongly opposed the move and a war of words erupted among all six states. The matter was then transferred to the apex court by the then President APJ Abdul Kalam.
Issues like pollution, renewable energy etc will also play a major role in the upcoming polls. The state has already begun to see the impact of global warming, with the winter gone by proving to be one of the warmest and driest in decades.
This is all set to spell doom for the hill state’s biggest cash crop, apple. Snow along with an uninterrupted chilly winter is vital for apple trees. However, the warm winter has made apple farmers nervous and edgy.
State Congress leaders have also been left wondering whether the Sukhram factor will hit their party’s prospects in the polls. Former Union Communications Minister Sukhram was convicted and sentenced to a suspended three-year jail term by a Delhi Court for amassing Rs 4.25 crore of disproportionate assets.
While Sukhram had parted ways with the Congress in 1997 and floated the Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC), he later merged the HVC with his former party on the eve of the 2004 polls.
"The conviction of Sukhram will matter. We (the BJP) will ask `Panditji` (as Sukhram is popularly known) to name the Congress leaders who he often says had conspired to frame him," Dhumal said recently. "Sukhram`s allegations that some of the top Congress leaders had been conspiring against him have come true with his conviction," he added.
While Congress leaders have said the development will not hurt the party, the 82-year-old former minister too, who belongs to Mandi town and commands influence in the area, has described himself a loyal Congress man, saying he would work for the party till his last breath.