IN THIS tribal-dominated constituency bordering Tibet, two things will always remain of significance to voters. It is from here that Independent India’s first voter Shyam Saran Negi, is set to vote in the November 9 Assembly polls. Negi, who hails from Kalpa, which was earlier known as Chini village, the 100-year-old retired school teacher had voted in the 1951 general elections. Secondly, the legacy of Kinnaur’s former five-time MLA, the late Thakur Sen Negi – a retired chief secretary-turned-politician, continues to have a special place in voters’ hearts. However, the elections this time in Kinnaur, which has nearly 55,000 voters, is neither about Shyam Saran Negi nor T S Negi.
The polls in the region, with snow-clad Kinnar Kailash peaks, is centred around the Congress claim of ‘Vikas se Vijay ‘(development to victory), and the BJP alleging that corruption and mafia raj of “a few handpicked individuals,” including kin of MLA and deputy speaker Jagat Singh Negi “hoodwinked” the Kinnaura. As the battle between Jagat Singh and BJP’s former MLA Tejwant Negi – who claims to belong to T S Negi’s clan — gets more intense, surprisingly, there is no mention of an old slogan the BJP had coined to target Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s governance record.
The BJP had called it the “government of retired, tired and hired,” alleging that over 3,000 government employees, and officers, many of them from Kinnaur and Shimla districts, who were beneficiaries of service extensions and plum positions at the cost of those from other regions. Kinnaur was part of the Bushehr state that the Chief Minister’s ancestors ruled, and he is known to have a soft corner of Kinnaur officials, who have a notable presence in the IAS, IPS, Revenue Services and so on.
“The Chief Minister’s arbitrary act of doling out extensions to retiring and retired officers, deprived meritorious and deserving government servants their due. Those who were left out either retired at junior positions or got some relief at fag end of their jobs or just went home. There is great deal of resentment about this,” alleges Suresh Bhardwaj, Shimla MLA, who is credited with coining the slogan “retired, tired and hired.”
In 2014, the government decided to give service extensions to everyone retiring during that year. In that year alone, 30,000 government servants irrespective of their merit, competence or credibility, got benefits of a one-year extension. The decision was later withdrawn. “The Chief Minister wanted to give an impression that he was not favouring a particular section — officers/employees from Kinnaur but every employee. Even after this, his preference for those from Kinnaur did not end. Some got three extensions and are perhaps now waiting for more on Raja Sahib’ coming to power,” said an IAS officer, who did not wish to be named.
In its pre-poll ‘Hisab maange Himachal’ campaign, the BJP had made this an issue — even Chief Secretary V C Pharka, whose appointment superceded others, and T G Negi, a retired IAS officer who was briefly the state Election Commissioner and was appointed by Virbhadra as principal adviser, a post always held by a serving bureaucrat, it has still not become a major poll issue.
When asked why not, BJP leaders at the party’s poll office at Reckong Peo said the focus was on “mafia raj” and “undue favours” that the Congress MLA’s brother, Capt Mohinder Negi, a contractor, got at hydro-power project —Shongton Karcham. “It’s an example of corruption, misuse of power and open patronage to to mining mafia in Kinnaur – an environmentally fragile district,” said Tejwant Negi.
Jagat Singh Negi, said, “My work speaks more than my words. I have done major development this time. My top priority was providing road connectivity to the people, who used to walk/trek hills to get to work everyday. Now, there are only two villages left without road. Work is already under way. I distributed ‘pattas ‘ to 700 people to give them rights to their land, opening of schools ,health institutions, new water supply schemes, irrigation schemes and bridges remained on top of my agenda,”, he says .
On the allegations against his brother, Negi said, “He is an ex-serviceman and has his own business with the company. He is also a project-affected person and had lost land. I have no role in his business dealings.”