BJP will win all seats in Himachal Pradesh: Jai Ram Thakur
In an interview with ET in his home district Mandi, Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur talks about the poll issues and governance challenges.
You became the CM in December 2017. The Lok Sabha polls in Himachal on May 19 are being seen as your first test. How is the campaign going?
We have passed similar tests earlier as well. After being made the party president, I had faced the first state election within nine months. And for the first time in the state history, a BJP government was formed on its own. Now my responsibility is different. I am campaigning in the entire state. Even as we believe in the concept of collective leadership, the responsibility is bigger for me. But looking at the ground reality, I am confident we will win all four seats.
Your home district Mandi is seeing a curious contest — ex-BJP CM Sukhram has got his grandson Aashray a Congress ticket against BJP candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma. Sukhram seems to be getting closer to former Congress CM Virbhadra Singh. Does the coming together of Sukhram and Virbhadra pose a challenge for the BJP?
It is also true that Virbhadra has recently called Sukhram “Aaya Ram Gaya Ram”. They have been arch rivals. Virbhadra also said Sukhram is a gaddar (traitor). I seriously doubt if they will really unite. As far as getting a ticket or grandson Aashray is concerned, everyone has the right to seek ticket but seeking a ticket from the BJP and Congress simultaneously is a new low in politics that Sukhram has hit.
There is some talk that Virbhadra Singh is asking voters to pick the BJP in Mandi.
Virbhadra Singh has been working for the Congress. There is a lot of pressure on him to speak against me. But all this means nothing. The BJP is strong in Mandi Lok Sabha constituency with 14 BJP MLAs out of 17.
But is it not true that out of 15 Lok Sabha elections, Congress won 11 times in Mandi.
It’s all history now. At one time, Mandi was a stronghold of the Congress. Virbhadra and Sukhram each has been elected thrice from here. It was a different era. Today, Mandi has got its own CM for the first time. This is also a big factor that has united people.
What is your party’s agenda?
Agenda is very clear: to make Modi ji the prime minister. Secondly, in Himachal, the BJP has formed its government. Today people have nothing to complain. Those who are complaining are doing for the sake of it. Common people are not believing them.
One thing to complain about is connectivity. Roads are bad, railway link is poor even as China has reached Tibet at the border, and air connectivity is negligible. What initiatives are being taken to correct this?
It is truly a painful situation due to our geographical challenges. Now improvement is being made on the road front. Four-laning is going on in several sectors. After two years, international tourism destinations such as Dharamshala, Shimla and Manali will be well connected by air. But as far as rail connectivity is concerned, we agree that not much headway has been made. From a security standpoint, it is very important. China is knocking on our border in Ladakh. But survey work is going on. We are hopeful that connectivity will improve. In air connectivity, our biggest challenge is that we operate with high load penalty — our airstrips are short. This means in all the three airports, in a 48-seater aircraft, we are able to carry only 25-30 people. We are striving for a full-fledged international airport in Mandi.
Shanta Kumar was known as ‘water CM’ and Prem Kumar Dhumal as ‘road CM’. Can we expect you to be referred to as ‘tourism CM’?
I am striving for this. In Himachal, a concerted effort was never made in a planned way for the tourism sector. Himachal has natural beauty; law and order is good, and Kashmir is disturbed. So tourists want to come here. But an effort was never made in a planned manner. For the first time, we are developing new destinations since the Shimla-Manali-Dalhousie circuit is hitting a saturation point.
New tourist destinations have been identified and are being promoted under a new scheme ‘Nai Manzilain, Nai Rahen’ — for example, Chanshal (Shimla) for world-class skiing, Janjari ( Mandi) for ecotourism, Kangra-Mandi border for paragliding and Pong Dam for water sports. Additionally, in September this year, we are organising an investor summit to attract private investment in the tourism sector.
Is Pulwama a talking point in Himachal Lok Sabha polls?
The issue is very much there and we can’t segregate this from the elections. It is an action for which people admire the government; no other government dared to make such a bold move. This time development is one issue but national security is also an equally important factor. India has emerged much stronger and in the hands of a strong leadership. This is going to make an impact in our favour.
Representation of women is abysmally low in Himachal Pradesh assembly even though they outnumber men in the electorate.
It is an issue in Himachal. If all goes well, the PM will certainly do something to correct it this time. At the panchayat level, we have given due representation but in assembly and Lok Sabha their representation is low. But I am sure we will give more representation in future by means of a law.
Dhumal was considered the tallest BJP leader from the state till he lost his seat in the 2017 assembly polls. It is being said that since then, he has lost his say in the party, that he is no longer active.
He is very much active. Shanta Kumar ji is working in Kangra and Dhumal ji in Hamirpur. He could not save his seat but to say that he is not working is not correct. Sometimes, electoral results are beyond our control and we have to accept it with all humility.