AAP eyes Himachal, Cong takes back seat but will BJP let it spread its wings in hills?

New Delhi, April 19: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is gradually setting its goal to climb the hills in Himachal Pradesh, a state next in line for the assembly elections, along with Gujarat.
 
AAP eyes Himachal, Cong takes back seat but will BJP let it spread its wings in hills?

<br>The party, which never had its footprints in the state and where the Congress has been a dominant party till the rise of BJP in 1990 under former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar or also later Prem Kumar Dhumal, wants to contest all 68 seats and make a stake to the power, as third alternative, after having swept the Congress out of power in Punjab .

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal seems to have taken personal command in his hand to make an impression in the hill state. He has deployed his health minister Satyendra Jain and Durgesh Pathak--a duo which is also touring Himachal Pradesh to create a buzz about AAP as the next serious contender for power in the state.

Kejriwal has already held a road show in Mandi -- Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur's home district on April 6 and in just less than a fortnight, he is reaching Kangra, thec state's biggest district to hold a public rally, and road show on April 23.

Kangra has 15 assembly seats and holds potential to alter the power game in the state during any election. Thus, Kejriwal's army of volunteers and strategists want him to demonstrate the party's strength in Kangra and put the ruling BJP under pressure .

"The people of the state want change. There is lot of resentment prevailing against the BJP government, which has done nothing during the last four years. That's why the BJP is getting nervous shocks and taking most decisions to counter AAP's growing influence," claims former Director General of Police (DGP) ID Bhandari .

The BJP, on the other hand, refuses to give much credence to AAP leaders' claims and rejects allegations of anti-incumbency factor affecting its chances as has been the case in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.

Says state BJP president Suresh Kashyap: "AAP has no presence in the state .There leaders are creating false impressions in the state, and also the BJP. Our government led by Jai Ram Thakur has done tremendous work. Lot of new initiatives were taken to reach-out vulnerable sections under the centre government's direct benefit schemes like free ration, health care."

Though, AAP presence in Punjab, will undoubtedly create an impact in some of the districts, bordering Punjab but much will depend on its strength of volunteers who will join the party or having already been enrolled. The party, right now, has no credible leader of Himachal origin as dependable face to give it an edge over the traditional hill leadership. Most of the activities are manned from Delhi, thus, creating quite a disillusionment among locals .

During his Mandi road show, Kejriwal did not get any Himachal leader to share stage with him or even did not interact with those in the party for a long time.

AAP state president Anoop Kesari and half a dozen other office-bearers including women wing chief, quit the party and joined BJP at the behest of Union Minister for information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur .

The AAP was quick to retaliate by inducting BJP leader Rumail Dhiman with other supporters. Dhiman, a businessman ,who been inactive in the party for quite some time had earlier been member of national body of its Dalit wing .

Right now, it looks AAP is certainly trying to take away the space of the Congress as BJP's new electoral rival in the hill state .

How this will impact the BJP's prospects and its mission repeat in 2022 will depend on how the ruling BJP builds up its strategy for the poll and hardsells Modi's influence in the state, where he enjoys a considerable connection as having served as party general secretary.

Modi has widely travelled in Himachal Pradesh and knows many old and hard-core party workers personally. He was also instrumental in formation of the state's first coalition government under Prem Kumar Dhumal in 1998 with support of former communication minister Pt Sukh Ram's political outfit - Himachal Vikas Congress - a government that lasted a full five years .

Earlier to this, none of the BJP governments, formed in the state under Shanta Kumar, could not last a full five years, and were replaced by the Congress .

To put the BJP on election mode, national BJP president JP Nadda ,has toured Shimla, Solan and Bilaspur districts for four days to interact with party office-bearers, MLAs and core committee of the party setting out a clear agenda for mission repeat 2022.

JP Nadda's roadshow in Shimla after his first visit following BJP victory in four states -- Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.

Nadda, during his tour also ruled out possibilities of any leadership change in the state ahead of the elections as had happened in Gujarat and Uttarakhand.

As he hails from Himachal Pradesh puts him in the central stage of the party's electoral roadmap in the state.

It is clear that Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur will remain the party's face for the polls. His performance during four years will be marketed apart from central schemes .

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 75th Himachal Day went live to send his greetings to the people of the state and patted the Chief Minister for his performance, handling Covid, making state number 1 in vaccination and not letting development to stop during two years of the pandemic .

Modi is also expected to tour the state in June 2022 to inaugurate Rs 1,400 crore All India Institute of Medical College (AIIMS), Bilaspur for which foundation stone was held by him in 2017, before state assembly elections.

"The Prime Minister will also be invited to address a yuva rally of one lakh youths in the state in June itself and kick-start the party's election campaign in the state," Nadda informed .

The national BJP president is arriving again on April 22 for a road show in Kangra, just a day before Arvind Kejriwal's visit.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has already travelled to the districts to launch new development projects and address public meetings taking advantage of the congress absence from the state scenes.

As per Nadda the party has already rolled-out a six months programme for the organisation to hold maha-sampark abhiyan, booth level conferences with workers and mahila sammelans.

Knowing that women, who constitute 50 per cent of the state's population, upto 58 per cent in some districts like Hamirpur, are being particularly targeted by the party to highlight welfare initiatives of Modi government.

The state government has announced travel facility for the women at 50 per cent rate in all state-owned transport corporation buses. A free power facility upto 150 units and free drinking water supplies to the consumers in the rural areas are two big freebies recently announced in the state, which has 80 per cent population living in the villages and engaged in farming.

This is the first time when the BJP government has come-out with largesse to woo the voters. This could be a clear impact of the AAP trying to introduce a freebies regime in Punjab and its promise to replicate Delhi model of governance in Himachal Pradesh .

The move, triggered immediate reactions from the AAP from Delhi terming it as panic reactions in the BJP circles.

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia accused the Chief Minister of trying to copy AAP's model of governance months ahead of assembly elections.

"The government's announcement is nothing but a way of deceiving people. The BJP is completely against free electricity and water supply. There is a huge possibility of the BJP withdrawing the scheme once they win the assembly election," he claimed.

Earlier to this, the Chief Minister had also announced substantial hike in the social security pensions for all persons above 60 years.

Earlier, this age was upto 70 years benefitting almost 4.25 lakh persons, including widows and destitute women. Around 2.20 lakh new beneficiaries were also added.

Salaries and remunerations of daily wage workers, Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, Mid-day meal workers, water guards, Panchayat chowkidars and different categories of teachers were also raised in the budget.

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--indianarrative