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Jairam Thakur interview: ‘People of Himachal wise enough to sift through Cong’s hollow promises … We have done what was doable’

Himachal Pradesh CM tells The Indian Express that AAP has no standing in the hill state, says Congress main rival but is ‘visionless and adrift’.

Jai Ram Thakur explains why he believes the BJP will return to power and discusses the prospects of the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). (Express File Photo by Pradeep Kumar)

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur is set to lead the BJP in the coming Assembly elections in the hill state. In an interview to The Indian Express, he says the ruling party won’t indulge in competitive populism in the run-up to the polls. Thakur explains why he believes the BJP will return to power and discusses the prospects of the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Excerpts:

The BJP has announced it will contest the polls under your leadership. How do you feel?

They have reposed faith in me. They have seen my work these five years. Being declared the CM candidate again is a matter of pleasure and pride. But it also brings great responsibility. Now, it is my duty to bring the party back to power.

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A second consecutive term for the party in power has been a rarity in the state.

That’s right but we will make that happen. When I entered politics and contested my first election, I used to think, will I win? I won. I won again and again, and became an MLA for the fifth time. Now, if you ask me if we will win, yes, we will win for a second time. This is self-confidence, no over-confidence.

What makes you think that?

I have been touring the state. Earlier, when elections drew near, people used to become indifferent to the party in power. Iss baar toh logon mein utsah hai, gazab ka utsah hai (This time, people are full of enthusiasm, exceptional enthusiasm). There is a lot of excitement (about our party) too.

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I have visited 40 Assembly constituencies in the last 10-15 days. I will cover all 68 of them. The message from the masses is clear: We will come back with a comfortable majority. I won’t put a figure on seats though.

How do you view the Congress’s prospects?

Yeh baat tay hai ki hamara muqabala Congress se hai (This is certain that we will be fighting against the Congress). But the Congress is visionless, leaderless, and directionless. They are still relying on their old leaders, they are putting up their photos and hoping for victory.

By old leaders, do you mean the late Virbhadra Singh?

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Yes, he was their seniormost leader, the only tall leader they had. Only he could keep the Congress flock together. Now, they are adrift.

There is a third entrant as well this time: the Aam Aadmi Party? How do you view their prospects?

The AAP has no standing in the state. No doubt, they made efforts to establish themselves here, but without success. Their former state president joined our party. Their many important leaders followed suit. Their Himachal in-charge (Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain) is in jail. Then they had to disband their decision-making bodies and constitute them again.

Historically, the electoral fight (in the hill state) has always been between only the BJP and the Congress. There is no space for a third one. Whenever a third party tried to enter the fray, be it Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party or some other outfit, people did not accept it. So, you can imagine the fate the AAP is going to suffer (in the state).

Jab inhone Punjab jeeta tha, tab thodi chinta hui thi (When they won the Punjab Assembly elections, we became a bit worried). But soon their true face came to the fore. Their health minister (Vijay Singla) went to jail for corruption. Law and order became another big problem in Punjab. Now, they have run out of steam. People have seen through their designs. In fact, their Punjab model has had a negative impact in Himachal.

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The Congress has promised 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 the household consumers and Rs 1,000 to women every month.

Kahan se karenge (From where will they do it)? The people of Himachal are wise enough to sift through such hollow promises. They are not fools. We are providing 125 units of electricity free. It is a relief for certain sections of society whose consumption is limited. Broadly, poor 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 are also providing women a 50 per cent discount on bus fares. But, mind you, this is discount, not free travel.

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So, you won’t go beyond 125 units? So, no freebies?

We have done what was doable. We have done what was in the interest of everybody and the state.

Will you be able to convince voters?

Yes, of course.

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The Congress has also promised to restore the old pension scheme.

This is a big issue. But this is easier said than done. Ask Congress senior poll observer for Himachal (Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel) how this scheme is doing in Chhattisgarh. See how this is doing in Rajasthan. There is no effective implementation. Moreover, there is a memorandum between the Centre and the states. How will you come out of that? Then funds have accumulated under the NPS (New Pension System) and have been invested in the market. Where will that go? But, certainly, this is a big issue. We are trying to find a way out.

The Congress is trying to usurp your Hindutva plank a little by promising to buy milk from farmers at cheaper rates and cow dung at Rs 2 per kg.

Yes, they are trying to woo our voters. But this announcement has failed to make any impact. Pradesh mein iski koi charcha hi nahin ho rahi hai (There is no talk of this in the state).

Recently, in-principle approval was given for a bulk drug park in the Haroli Assembly constituency.

This is a big achievement for the entire state. Himachal Pradesh is number one in Asia when it comes to drug manufacturing. We made great efforts to get this park. The park will have a big impact in Una district.

Even your detractors admit you have a clean image but you are not able to rein in bureaucracy.

I have my own style of working. I believe relationships work. So, I try to have a personal rapport with officers. I am tough when I am required to be tough.

Recently, State Public Service Commission appointments were notified but later the notification was withdrawn. The Opposition alleges it happened after the Prime Minister’s Office intervened.

Aisa pehale bhi hua hai (This has happened earlier as well). There are precedents. There was no unanimity on two names. So, wider consultations were held. Nothing new in this.

It is said the PMO had asked for a probe against the then Chief Secretary Ram Subhag Singh as he faced corruption charges. But, instead, you replaced him.

Many complaints are anonymous, many complaints are made just to harass the government, many complaints are made with malafide intentions. There is no need to take cognisance of each one of them.

It is said you brought RD Dhiman, an officer with a clean image, as Chief Secretary just to win the elections.

Transfers and reshuffles are routine process. Nothing should be read into this.

During Saturday’s rally at Lower Kangar village in Una district, Union Minister Anurag Thakur left early, soon after he made his speech. All’s well in the party?

He had a flight to catch from Chandigarh at 7.30 pm.

But according to his official itinerary, the flight was scheduled for 9 pm.

He had to go somewhere.

Former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal has expressed his desire to fight the elections.

I am not aware of this. But if he is keen to contest, the senior party leadership will take a decision (on his candidature).

Will the Modi factor work this time in Himachal?

Definitely! Modiji has a special affinity with Himachal Pradesh. He considers Himachal his second home. The Modi factor will make a huge impact.

First published on: 13-09-2022 at 04:02 IST
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