statesman news service
SHIMLA, 14 JUNE: The recent elevation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in his party has evoked a mixed response from both the BJP and the Congress leaders campaigning hard in the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency for the by-poll scheduled for 23 June.
Former Chief Minister and the BJP&’s main campaigner Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal has hailed the decision and said it would benefit the party since “he is a well-known face for the people of this state, as he had earlier worked as a party affairs chief here and had traveled throughout Himachal".
Recalling his “soft corner” for the state (“like Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee&’s”), Mr Dhumal said the BJP had won all six parliamentary seats in the recent by-elections in Gujarat under his leadership and Mr Modi “has given a call from Goa to make the nation Congress-free”.
Calling the Mandi by-poll a trend-setter for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Mr Dhumal has been urging the voters “to respond to the need for change”. Mr Modi&’s support within the party for Mr Dhumal in different difficult situations is known in the political circles here. On the other hand, former chief minister Mr Shanta Kumar (known to be Mr Dhumal&’s detractor) who had issued strong statements in the past against Mr Modi after the communal riots in Gujarat, has issued a bland, non-committal statement that the party took the decision to give Mr Modi the new responsibility, “taking into account the public sentiment”.
Mr Dhumal and his close associates have been speaking about the “Modi model of development” at the public rallies.
The Congress leaders, on the other hand, have been claiming at various  public meetings that Mr Modi&’s elevation would “prove beneficial” to the Congress prospects in the by-election, since “it exposes the BJP&’s hidden agenda”. They harp on the communal riots in Gujarat while under Mr Modi&’s leadership, and hope that such things would “alienate the right-minded people” in the BJP ranks (meaning those like Mr Kumar and his supporters) from actively canvassing for their candidate. The Congress leaders are also counting on the fallout of Mr L K Advani&’s resignation (though sorted out later) with a statement debunking his own party culture etc, and its demoralising effect on the party cadres during the campaign. Even the non-party, neutral-minded people, they say, tend to vote in the Lok Sabha polls for the party “seen as having a better chance” of forming the government ~ recent developments involving the chief ministers of Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, etc., would “go against the BJP as a national party and the NDA&’s coalition leader”.