HP Votes
Power Play
Old rivals & old issues once again take centrestage in the fresh “battle of ballot” in Himachal. Rakesh Lohumi traces poll trends 

THE state has been witnessing a change of guard in every election since 1990 with the Congress and the BJP taking turns in power. The last time a party in power emerged victorious at the hustings was in 1985 when chief minister Virbhadra Singh went in for a snap poll to cash-in on the sympathy generated by Indira Gandhi’s assassination. It will be interesting to see if the same trend is maintained in the current election.

Electoral politics has been largely bipolar in the hill state, but this time the BSP — which has of late acquired some political muscle with the entry of Congress leaders like Vijay Mankotia, Vijay Joshi and Kewal Pathania — is present in the arena in a big way. The party has put up candidates on 67 of the 68 seats. These, along with a score of rebel candidates, could alter electoral mathematics in almost one-third of the constituencies. There are no straight fights and barring 10 seats, where the contest is triangular, the number of contestants varies between four and nine.

There have been at least two occasions in the past when disgruntled Congress leaders played spoilsport. Mankotia had jumped upon the V.P. Singh bandwagon in 1989 to head the newly floated Janata Dal. It contested the subsequent assembly poll in alliance with the BJP and played a key role in ousting the Congress. In 1998, veteran Congress leader Sukh Ram floated the HVC on election eve to ensure the defeat of Congress, which had gone for a snap poll to take advantage of the divided BJP. It won only five seats but tilted scales against the Congress in 12 seats. As a result, the BJP, which secured 29 seats, could form the government only with its support. The HVC, which secured 8.47 per cent votes in the 2003 poll, has merged with the Congress and Sukh Ram has quit electoral politics. His son Anil is contesting the Mandi seat in his place. In recent times, taking credit for “unprecedented” development and accusing rivals of indulging in corruption has become a ritual. Issues like price rise, non-performance and growing unemployment also figure prominently in the electoral debate. However, experience of previous elections indicates that the plank of development and the most-debated issues like discrimination, non-performance and corruption usually take a back seat. It is invariably the “mood for change”, also termed as the anti-establishment sentiment, which plays a decisive role.

The BJP made development its poll plank during the 2003 assembly election but it failed to yield dividends and was humbled at the hands of a divided Congress, which made corruption, irregularities in recruitment and indifferent governance as the main issues. Similarly, in 1998, the Congress sought votes in the name of development and lost out to BJP.

History shows that a tainted image, arrogant behaviour and ignoring the electorate have caused electoral reverses. The more powerful a leader, stronger the backlash against him, as is evident from the fact that high-profile ministers are usually made to lick dust by the electorate.

Both parties are raising the issue of corruption. While the BJP is using the audio CD released by Mankotia to attack Virbhadra, the Congress is targeting the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate P.K. Dhumal by terming the conviction of a former chairperson of the State Subordinate Services Selection Board in three cases pertaining to irregularities in recruitment as his direct indictment.



White Christmas at last?
Rakesh Lohumi

For once the weather god has obliged the Queen of Hills with a timely snowfall. The residents and few tourists who were lucky to be here were pleasantly surprised to see the city draped in white in the morning of December 10. The next 24 hours brought more snow, virtually transforming the hillscape into a fairyland.

The weather pattern in the region has over the past two decades changed so much that timely snow has come more as a surprise. The city has been usually experiencing a dry December and receiving most of the snow in January and February. White Christmas and White New Year, which was the norm until 1970’s, have been eluding the city year after year.

The average snowfall in January has declined from 54 cm to 47 cm and increased in February from 45.2 cm to 48 cm. Further, there are on average four days of snow during February and three days in January as against one day in December, that too occurs in the second half of the month.


It was perhaps on the basis of the recent meteorological data that the Election Commission of India decided to advance the Assembly election, which was due in the last week of February to December 19. The Congress had strongly objected to the decision and pointed out that snow could come anytime and if that happened it would affect as many as 22 out of the total 65 Assembly constituencies going into poll in the second phase. However, the chief election commissioner did not take it seriously and even remarked that Himachal Pradesh was a land of gods and the god will take care of the weather.

The weather god has indeed taken good care and ensured that the state received snow in time. However, in the process the election campaign has been thrown out of gear.

Cheers for some

Considered as ‘white manure’ for apple orchards, the early snow brought cheers to fruit growers as it will not only help maintain moisture in the top soil but also ensure the minimum required chilling hours necessary for a good crop. Normally, 1600 to 2000 chilling hours with temperature constantly remaining below 7 degree Celsius are required.

The state produced a record 2.84 crore boxes of apple this year, thanks to good snow during the later half of the winter. Normally a bumper crop is followed by a poor crop but early snow will at least help ensure a normal crop. 



Miss Tibet was told to either wear a ‘Miss Tibet-China’ sash or pull out of a pageant in Malaysia 
Beauty queen slams Chinese govt
Kulwinder Sandhu

Miss Tibet 2006 Tsering Chungtak, who withdrew from the Miss Tourism Pageant held in Malaysia last week, has lashed out at the Chinese government for “violating rights of Tibetan people” after she was asked to wear a sash labelled Miss Tibet-China during the competition or withdraw.

Chungtak has alleged that the Chinese consulate in Malaysia used its influence on the organisers for this purpose. “China constantly violates human rights and threatens the environment in Tibet. This is threatening the very survival of Tibetan people,” she said after returning from Malaysia.

Delegates from 30 countries had congregated at Sarawak in eastern Malaysia for this pageant, which began in 2003. The pageant is organised to promote goodwill and understanding among nations and to celebrate diversity of cultures. Lobsang Wangyal, who organises the Miss Tibet contest, was of the view that politics should not come in the way of pageants that promote peace and amity among nations. He termed it as the high-handedness of China. “Interfering in an event is testimony to the fact that China wants to wipe out Tibetans and their culture. Miss Tibet is organised to empower young Tibetan women and is not aimed at promoting any political agenda.”



Virbhadra-Dhumal slugfest in full swing
Dharam Prakash Gupta

Electioneering often results in the game of one-upmanship, so the case of present chief minister of Himachal Virbhadra Singh and former chief minister and BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal is hardly surprising. Both the leaders do not miss out a chance to score a point over the other during the election rallies, albeit issues discussed by them are of immense public interest.

Virbhadra has alleged that the previous BJP government, led by Dhumal, had retrenched 35,000 workers. However, when Dhumal asked him to come out with the detailed list of these people, Virbhadra retorted that it was the duty of the then government to provide the list. The latter said that he had also pointed the same during his tenure in the opposition at that time. And although the issue is of immense importance, both the leaders are just passing on the buck to each other.

Similarly, Dhumal is asking the chief minister to file an affidavit in the court denying that the CD released by Mankotia does not contain his voice. To counter this, Virbhadra says that rather Dhumal should file an affidavit to prove that it is his voice!

Dhumal is also alleging that the debt burden in the present regime has almost doubled to more than Rs 3000 crores. On the other hand, Virbhadra alleges that they had inherited a debt burden of Rs 1500 crores from the previous government. Since the issue is complex and figures bombastic, a common person fails to understand whom to believe!

Meanwhile, there are many such issues on which both leaders are leveling mutual allegations, which is only adding to the confusion in the minds of the voter.



HP Votes
As campaigning enters the last phase, voters find themselves caught up in a fierce barrage of promises, claims & counter-claims 
Promises galore, little later
Kuldeep Chauhan

Election fever has heated up the chilly weather conditions in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, which is going to polls on December 19. Albeit BJP, CM, CPI and BSP have come out with their respective election manifestos, the Congress is yet to officially release the same.

Parties have come out with huge promises for people in all the 68 assembly segments of the state, although the issues of the common man often get lost in the fight for the ‘chair’. While the Congress is riding high on ushering in developmental works, BJP is promising more jobs, a transfer policy, development of tourism, hydropower and welfare of all sections of the society. CPI and CPM have claimed to give the state’s rights in Punjab Re-organisation Act and welfare state for the common man. BSP stands for making Dharamsala the winter capital and creating more districts in the state.

However, what parties and politicians come out with in manifestoes, they do not practice in public meetings and campaigns, leave alone implementing them when they come to power, opine certain residents in Mandi. They allege that initially parties offer sops to lure voters, only to forget them once voted to power. It’s like a mela that happens every five years.

Residents also allege that once ministers and MLAs take charge, they create their own ‘blue-eyed lobbies of middlemen and power brokers, while the common man remains unheard. Their ‘close’ associates corner most of the benefits, residents further allege.

As a result, other issues like provision of gainful employment to over 10 lakh youth in the state, tackling female foeticide, checking erosion of biodiversity, rising prices and poverty etc are not being catered to.

“Natural resources are eroding at a rapid rate and no party is talking about it in their agendas,” says Kulbhushan Upmanyu, an environment activist, who has launched the “People Manifesto-2008” for all parties. “We have asked them to include farmers’ issues in their manifestos. We are sensitising people and asking candidates as to what they will do about them,” he adds. Himalani Kapoor, a private bank employee, says: “The common man still does not figure in the agenda of political parties. The poor man’s voice still goes unheard. Parties promise a lot, but when it comes to delivering results, they slack.”

“Everybody talks about the poor, why is poverty still rising then? Corruption is still rife in bureaucratic circles,” comments Dinu Kashayap, president, Progressive Writers’ Association. “Parties should take up real issues like unemployment, debt trap and poverty,” adds Balbir Jhagta, a senior advocate from Chopal, district Shimla.

Says Dr BL Kapur, a Mandi-based writer who has authored books on history and culture of Himachal Pradesh: “Elections continue to be a mela which happens after every five year or so. Nobody is serious. It is only government servants who work.”

Common public perception is that candidates make personal commitments to certain individuals while the common ones are often ignored. “This mindset should change. People should take each candidate to task and discuss the agenda thoroughly,” says Suresh Chauhan, ex-serviceman. “No tainted politician should be voted to power to ensure probity in public life,” he adds.

Meanwhile, propaganda reigns supreme on agendas of each party. BJP accuses the Congress of discriminating against lower/upper and old or new Himachal areas, while the former lambasts BJP of dividing people on caste and religious grounds. BSP has come out with its new agenda of half-a-dozen new districts in the state. Sadly, the only class that stands to lose is the common man. 



Problem of Plenty
Ambika Sharma

With nominees of both BJP and Congress possessing assets worth several crores, the fight among political parties appear to have been tilted away from the problems of the common man and shifted towards material gains.

A perusal of assets of several nominees of both the BJP and the Congress in Solan reveals that capitalists have managed to capture the political arena and politics is no longer a means to serve the society. The new class of politicians is dominated by those trying to make a quick buck.

An interesting contest appears to be on cards in Solan constituency where two doctors are in the fray. Dr Rajiv Bindal from BJP and Dr Kailash Parashar from Congress do not only share the same professions but also have similar kind of assets. Both have assets worth several crores and they have invested in properties. The two have filed their nomination papers at the office of the local SDM. Dr Bindal, who is a two-time MLA, is vying to win the seat for the third time in a row, while Dr Parashar is contesting for the first time.

Dr Bindal, who declared his assets along with the nomination papers, has stated that he has Rs 2 lakh in cash while his bank deposits are worth Rs 3,95,367. Further, he possesses about 72 bighas of land priced at Rs 57.55 lakh and also possesses two vehicles, a Wagnor and a Scorpio. His wife too possesses assets worth several lakhs, including land and godl jewellery worth Rs 7.44 lakh.

Dr Parashar on the other hand has immovable assets, including 38 bighas of land worth Rs 2.57,70,000 crores. He has bank deposits worth Rs 53.49 lakh and has Rs 1.85 lakh in cash and shares worth Rs 2 lakh. In addition to this, jewellery worth Rs 2 lakh, furniture worth Rs 5 lakh and two cars Santro and Honda City are also credited to his family. More properties worth Rs 8.6 lakh are owned by him in Solan town. His wife has jewellery worth Rs 12 lakh and Rs 28.2 lakh in bank deposits and Rs 1.65 lakh in cash.

These revelations assume significance as allegations has been levelled by a section of politicians against the local MLA possessing huge chunks of land. The MLA has, however, refuted them as baseless and has held that whatever properties he owns are legal. The Nalagarh sitting MLA H. N. Saini, who filed his nomination from Nalagarh as a BJP nominee, too is worth crores. He owns properties worth Rs 10 crores and has 48 bighas of land worth Rs 2.99 crores while his wife possesses 79 bighas of land worth Rs 6 crores. A loan of Rs 16.64 lakh is pending against him.

Doon MLA Lajja Ram, who is contesting again, possesses assets worth Rs 4 crores, cash worth Rs 40,000 and 72.3 bighas of land worth Rs 3.55 crores His wife possesses 12.19 bighas of land worth Rs 32 lakh, jewellery worth Rs 4.5 lakh and two vehicles, including a truck and a Scorpio.



Bold Talk
‘My govt will complete its term’
Dharam Prakash Gupta

Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who is in the midst of an intense election campaign and has been sour about the decision of the Election Commission of India to hold early polls, says there is no legal and constitutional hitch in this. In an exclusive interview with The Tribune he sounded confident that his government would complete its full term till March 9, 2008, and discussed various other issues.

You have been saying that your government would complete its full term till March 9, 2008, even after the election?

There is no legal and constitutional hitch in the continuation of my government till completion of its full term, but I would cross the bridge when I arrive at it.

Your main election plank is development ushered in by the Congress government, but you know that this agenda has not brought rich dividends in politics many a time?

It is an important issue as this has transformed the state; we have attracted Rs 27,000 crores investment during the present term, created 3.75 jobs, a central university and a medical college at Hamirpur. Besides, an IIT is being opened at Mandi, in addition to the 300 vocational colleges that have been planned.

What are the other issues that are important during this election?

Regionalism and casteism are not important for us, although the BJP constantly harps on this issue. For us India is one and Himachal is also one.

Your comment on some people within the Congress and outside having a nexus against you?

I am not aware of any such nexus but anyway I shall face it; that shows how strong V.B. Singh is. They have been attempts in the past as well, but these cannot deter me from my path.

Have you gone soft on the hard disc issue?

I have not gone soft on the hard disc issue and its details would be made public in due course Since it carries a list of recommendations to HPSC and HPSSB to select particular candidates for jobs and not to recommend a few others by the then CM, it can not be brushed aside.

What you have to say about the CD episode?

It shows to what level Dhumal can stoop, but people of the state know me very well and they know the truth also. I do not take such things seriously since they are part of a malicious campaign against me by Dhumal and his party.



HP Votes
Now, missives in campaigns

Ambika Sharma

The Election Commission has forced political parties to come out with novel methods of campaigning. Thanks to the strict vigil being maintained by the Commission on conventional styles, including use of loud speakers, hoardings and advertisements in print and electronic media. 

Now, candidates of both the major political parties In Himachal — BJP and the Congress — are distributing hand-written letters amongst the voters. 

Candidates are especially distributing these missives in Solan. Bearing the candidates photo, these letters request the voter to poll in their favour. The tool is being used freely, even under the prying eye of the Commission and is being considered a strong messenger to convey the desired message. 

Use of short text messages (SMS) to woo the voters is also catching the fancy of candidates. 

Some of them are seen carrying more than a couple of cellphones at one time. And to top it all, migrant workers in the free food stalls installed by candidates in the industrial belt of Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh are also wooing the voters. Such stalls are also operating in Solan. 

More and more lunches and dinners are being hosted for mediapersons as well. Newspaper offices are flooded with poll-related advertisements, including public rallies, birthdays of national leaders, etc. 

“Why not gain the favour of mediapersons when each and every channel of communication is important. While we get publicity, mediapersons are also happy at generating business for their respective papers” quipped the media manager of a political party.



shimla Diary
Skiing into the world of glory
Pratibha Chauhan

It was at the tender age of two that she started skiing in the slopes near her house in Narkanda.

At the age of 14 today, Rashael is totally into the adventure sport and is participating in events within and outside India. A student of class IX at the local Convent of Jesus and Mary, she spends her entire winter holidays skiing and aspiring to make a name for herself in the national and international level. She gets ample encouragement from her father Rupesh Kanwal, who is also a good skier. She was ranked seventh at the Asian Children’s Skiing Championship held in Korea in March earlier this year.

She has earlier been to Korea twice as part of the Dream programme sponsored by the Korean government and the Winter Games Federation of India.

Her skills are not just confined to skiing as she is also into climbing. At a young age of seven, she scaled the 17,500 feet Shetidhar Peak in Manali. This achievement was as the youngest member of the Clean Himalayan Expedition organised by Adventure Foundation, Narkanda.

Ray of hope

With the Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies raising the issues concerning the disabled at various level, at least the political parties have included the issue in their election manifesto.

Both the BJP and CPM election manifestoes clearly state that a policy for the disabled will be framed and it will be ensured that they get reservation in jobs along with strict implementation of the Person with Disability Act, 1995, Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992 and the National Trust Act. 

President of the Himachal chapter of the Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies Ajay Srivastava says it is a welcome development that at least political parties are willing to admit that still a lot needs to be done for the disabled. “When the issue is highlighted in their manifesto, at least part of it will be implemented if not all and this too will help improve the plight of the disabled,” he says.

BJP advert shocks many

Much to their discomfiture, the advertisement issued by the central office of the BJP is creating an awkward situation for the otherwise dignified state leadership as neither can they disown or own the remarks against the chief minister.

The controversial advertisements issued by the BJP office has not gone down well not just with the politicians of the state, but the public as well. It has sparked off a debate about the level of politics and degradation in the otherwise peaceful state where politicians have always maintained dignity and decency even while hitting out at their political opponents.

The advertisements saying Raja Rani malamaal hai, janta behaal hai was coined by the central unit of the party looking after publicity and campaign with the objective that it would be a big hit with the electorate. Some senior BJP state leaders even admitted on record that the advertisement was not in good taste.

“Those sitting in Delhi are unaware of the ground realities and the mindset of the people here who unlike Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have always shunned any attempts to vitiate and lower standards of decency in the past,” admitted a senior BJP leader.

However, national vice-president of the BJP Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi defended it by saying that it was certainly not objectionable and in the least controversial.

His colleague and in charge of party affairs in Himachal Satya Pal Jain justified it by saying that the Congress should be the last one to object as it started the trend in 2003 elections. So can we conclude that the so-called idealist party with a difference is going the Congress way?



Individual agendas ruling the roost?
Kuldeep Chauhan

Individual agenda and not that of the party, being followed by political bigwigs in Himachal, has left many party workers nonplussed, who term it as just an attempt to enter the corridors of power through fair means or foul.

Albeit these leaders want to gain mass support by ignoring the ideology of their respective parties, genuine workers feel they are being sidelined for no reason.

In Mandi district, the BJP has fielded as many as six candidates who either come from Congress or from other non-BJP cadres — ex-speaker and a former Congressman Gulab Singh Thakur (Jogindernagar), who is now Dhumal loyalist, a turncoat Mohinder Thakur (Dharampur), Jawahar Thakur, who was once a candidate of the now defunct Himachal Vikas Congress(HVC) party led by Sukh Ram, the latest convert DD Thakur, former district Congress president and now BJP candidate from Mandi Sadar, a turncoat Mansa Ram (Karsog), a former HVC candidate.

In Kangra district and other remaining segments most of the tickets were allotted to Shanta Kumar loyalists who kept him in “good humour”, till the party high command gave them a jolt by announcing Prem Kumar Dhumal as the chief ministerial candidate. Dhumal’s loyalist is fighting against Malvika Pathania, a convert from Congress and now Shanta’s loyalist.

The scenario is no different in Congress, where chief minister Virbhadra Singh, Viplove Thakur and Vidya Stokes have their own individual agendas, revealed insiders. Interesting, BJP has fielded Virbhadra’s former loyalist Daulat Ram Verma from Theog, giving a happy burial to ideology, revealed party workers while pointing out the ‘individual agendas of bigwigs’.

“Political opportunism and individual agendas reign supreme and issues of the common man have gone for a six,” rued party workers. “You feel let down and frustrated as it not your work, devotion and commitment to ideology that matters when it come to sharing power, but individual loyalties and devotion, be it allotment of tickets or ministry or other posts,” they pointed out.

Even Sukh Ram has his one individual agenda: To secure a berth for his son Anil Sharma by hook or crook. Anil is pitted in a tough battle from Mandi Sadar against Congress-rebel-turned-BJP-convert DD Thakur. Sukh Ram loyalists belong to both Congress and include Parkash Chaudhry(Balh), Mansa Ram(BJP) and Jawahar(BJP), workers pointed out. Dhumal has cultivated his own agenda among his loyalists spread all across the state and has started campaigning, revealed members of the Sangh Parivar who feel sidelined in the game of power.

Not far behind is the BSP. The party’s new convert from Congress is Major VS Mankotia, an ambassador of Mayawati’s newfound philosophy of Sarvajan Samaj in the hill state. Mankotia, who is contesting from Dharamsala this time, had earlier showered praises on the Congress party during the Sonia Gandhi’s visit here. He has now deserted the party and hopes to become the CM if BSP is voted to power, pointed out his fans.

And what is the leaders’ take on the issue. BJP president Jai Ram Thakur terms such a makeover as the need of party and changing times. Congress president Viplove Thakur says certain turncoats do not care about ideology and leave the party out of sheer opportunism.



Rekindling the flame of art
Kulwinder Sandhu

A five-day workshop was organised for the rural school students to rekindle the flame of art on the eve of the 106th birth anniversary of legendry artist Sobha Singh in the art gallery of Andretta, near Palampur, recently.

many as 100 children of the local Sobha Singh Government High School and other nearby schools participated in the workshop. They were taught to make greeting cards. The cards were later exhibited at the art gallery.

A large number of artists, villagers and admirers of Sobha Singh lauded the effort to revive the tradition of art at this famous art village.

Hirday Paul Singh, secretary-general of the Sobha Singh Memorial Art Society said this was an attempt to train local talent the village that already had the atmosphere for advocating art activities.

Sobha Singh stayed for more than 40 years in this little hamlet to paint in solitude. “As this attempt has been successful and encouraging, therefore, efforts will be made to increase such activities in the near future”, said Hirday.

Organiser of this workshop and art teacher Kamaljeet Kaur said the children had done some wonderful creative work with a lot of joy and satisfaction. She hoped that after learning the techniques, these children would contribute to their family income by making greeting cards and other gift items for different occasion like the New Year, Lohri and birthdays etc.

The participating children were given certificates of appreciation, a print of Sobha Singh’s paintings and other prizes. The secretary of the local Red Cross Society gave away the prizes.

Urmil Rana, village pardhan of Andretta, appreciated the efforts of the family members of Sobha Singh in encouraging art activities in the village.

She revealed that during the past one year Kamaljeet Kaur, the grand-daughter-in-law of Sobha Singh, had organised five free of cost workshops for the rural women.

This had helped them to take a stride towards self-help efforts, she added. 





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