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Monday, June 27, 2022

BJP big guns to lend Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur a hand as corruption, factions mount hurdles

While the BJP's eyes have been largely on AAP, which is focused on Himachal Pradesh after the spectacular win in neighbouring Punjab, the Congress too is getting its act together.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: May 27, 2022 8:30:15 am
BJP National President JP Nadda being garlanded by party workers during a public rally, in Kullu. Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur is also seen. (PTI Photo)

The BJP is leaving no stone unturned to win back Himachal Pradesh, which goes to polls later this year. Party president J P Nadda has himself taken over electioneering in his home state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chosen the state to launch his government’s eighth anniversary celebrations with a mega rally in Shimla on May 31, and the BJP made an early strike against the rising Aam Aadmi Party by taking away its leaders.

However, it may not be all smooth for the party in the hilly state.

Corruption charges against officials, including in the unravelling police recruitment paper leak scam, allegations that the Chief Minister’s Office is protecting them and delaying investigation, intensified factionalism, the inability of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to take everyone along, and simmering disillusionment among youth over joblessness are among the issues, party men fear, which are dragging down the BJP as it seeks to overcome anti-incumbency.

Outspoken former CM and party veteran Shanta Kumar earlier this week voiced this discontent, when he hailed AAP leader and Punjab CM Punjab Bhagwant Mann for taking “an extremely courageous step” against corruption, by sacking and arresting his own minister over bribery allegations. Kumar said there should be no tolerance towards corruption and every government should adopt transparency.

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Among those fending off allegations of corruption in Himachal is CM Thakur’s top official, Chief Secretary Ram Subhag Singh. The Prime Minister’s Office had also flagged the alleged irregularities in the construction of the Wildlife Interpretation Centre in Nagrota, when Singh had been additional chief secretary in the Forest Department, sources said. The CM is seen to be delaying the investigation against Singh.

In the constable recruitment examination held in March – the biggest such recruitment after the pandemic – question papers were allegedly sold for Rs 6-10 lakh to more than a thousand applicants. An investigation has indicated the involvement of several officials.

As pressure mounts on Thakur, the many factions within the BJP have raised their heads. “Leaders like former chief minister P K Dhumal, his son (Union minister) Anurag Thakur, Shanta Kumar, Nadda, Rajya Sabha MP Indu Goswami, Jai Ram Thakur himself… all have groups within the state unit,” a party leader said.

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The rival leaders have been biding their chance since the BJP’s humiliating defeat in several by-elections last year, including for the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency and the Arki, Fatehpur and Jubbal-Kotkhai Assembly seats.

Himachal BJP chief Suresh Kumar Kashyap played down the corruption allegations, saying the Thakur government had handled them seriously. “People have seen the government handing over the recruitment scam case to the CBI. There will be action against the culprits. It is also taking steps to conduct the exam soon,” he told The Indian Express, adding that the Opposition would not be able to gain advantage from the issue.

Kashyap also asserted that both the government and party were working in tandem to ensure the BJP returns to power.

While the BJP’s eyes have been largely on AAP, which is focused on Himachal Pradesh after the spectacular win in neighbouring Punjab, the Congress too is getting its act together.

A source said Mandi MP Pratibha Singh, who was handed over the reins of the Congress recently, and her son Vikramaditya have started bringing about good changes in Upper Himachal Pradesh.

“The Youth Congress is taking up the recruitment scam issue in a big way. With unemployment an issue among the youth in Himachal Pradesh, it is striking the right chords,” he said.

All expectations now rest on Modi’s Shimla rally, where he will address “the major concerns” of the hill state. “Things will be different after the Prime Minister’s visit,” a leader said.

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