War of veterans

‘It is a model state’

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh talks to Rakesh Lohumi on a variety of issues before the coming assembly elections

On the Congress’ poll prospects

Virbhadra SinghThe Congress is set to repeat the 2003 performance when it won 43 seats. I am not making a claim for the sake of it but am making this observation on the basis of certain ground realities. First, no regime in the past accomplished so much on the development front as this government. The achievements can only be described as "spectacular". Second, the Congress is more united than ever before and unlike the BJP, which is vertically divided into Dhumal and Shanta camps, it is fighting the electoral battle as a unified force. Third, the decision of the BJP high command to project Dhumal as the leader made things easier for the Congress. Though Shanta Kumar was trying to put up a brave front after being sidelined by the high command, his supporters are sulking.

Development as poll plank

A peaceful hill state like Himachal Pradesh stands out for communal harmony and a high level of literacy and education. Thus, development will always be an important issue for the people. It is the duty of every government to do as much as possible to improve the quality of life. You can make development a poll plank only if you have achievements to show. Creating hype without matching achievements on the ground will always prove to be counter-productive as had happened with the Dhumal regime in 2003.

Industrial growth

Industrialisation is not only helping the state in creating much-needed employment opportunities but also in strengthening the overall economy. The state has attracted an investment of Rs 27,000 crore over the past four years which will create 3.75 lakh jobs. To ensure that the local people get maximum jobs, the government was ensuring that the mandatory provision for providing 70 per cent of jobs to Himachalis was being strictly enforced. Besides, about 80,000 persons have been given employment in the government sector. For the first time the number of unemployed on the live registers has started coming down. It was around 6.5 lakh and many of them were already employed but continuing on the rolls in the hope of landing better job. I must add that the youth must start looking beyond government jobs. The mindset has to be changed to take full advantage of the employment boom in the private sector.

Fiscal management

The present government inherited empty coffers from the outgoing regime in March 2003 and there were not enough funds to even disburse the salaries of employees. The Dhumal government remained in office for 1825 days in all during which it faced a financial crisis for 1275 days. However, prudent fiscal policies pursued over the past five years have improved the financial position vastly. Not only has it pulled the state out of a perennial financial crisis and stabilised the finances but also arranged funds from the World Bank, ADB and Nabard to take up mega projects in the drinking water, irrigation, roads construction and other sectors. More importantly, 90 per cent of the loan from WB and ADB will come through the Centre as an outright grant to the state. The two international funding agencies have agreed to fund the state only because of good governance, progressive fiscal policies and competence for proper and timely execution of projects.

Eco concerns

The people must exercise discipline and show respect to the building laws as planned development is in their overall interest. If they build houses in violation of building laws, their colonies will degenerate into slums with no proper approach roads and basic civic amenities. Ultimately everyone will suffer. The larger interest of the community must be kept in mind.

Quota for women

Yes, it is true that not many women are coming forward in the political field at the assembly level, though there are now enough at the panchayat level due to the 33 per cent reservation. The "winnability" factor comes in the way as there are not many women candidates with winning prospects. The problem is not confined to the Congress only, other parties too are facing a similar situation. The fear of losing the seat holds the parties back and a deliberate policy will have to be adopted to bring them to the forefront of politics.

Regional bias

It is only the BJP which has been playing the politics of regionalism and casteism. In fact, regionalism is the bread and butter of the party. It may start with any issue but it ultimately falls back on regionalism to keep itself afloat. P.K. Dhumal has been harping on regionalism in every speech which is not good as it hurts the emotional unity of the people and creates division. I strongly feel that it is the bounden duty of every politician to strengthen the emotional integrity of the state. Otherwise, it is a model state in every respect.