Facing stiff opposition from chief minister Virbhadra Singh (83), Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee Chief, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu (52) moves on with ‘organisational experience’ and good rapport with the Congress high command.
The two-time MLA, Sukhu, who lost the 2012 elections in Nadaun Assembly constituency and is in the fray again, believes that voters in Himachal are politically alert and none can take them for granted.
He spoke to Archana Phull in an interview on election scenario, with poll results just a week away. The excerpts:
Q: What were the issues in 2017 Assembly polls in HP?
A: There was no Modi wave. That’s why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was forced to declare the leader in Himachal at the fag end of poll campaign. Whether it was demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Modi government hit the common man hard. The Congress was successful in taking all these issues to the people, especially women who are being made to pay GST even on cosmetics, which are a part of our culture. More so, people of HP are democratically aware. The individual anti-incumbency also matters here. The voter turnout is always high and people here evaluate the candidates on their individual performance, image and attitude, as well.
Q: BJP is confident as the ‘vote for change’ phenomenon favours the Opposition party every five years?
A: People of Himachal have voted for change every five years since 1985. However, the polls in 2017 are different. Any government faces anti-incumbency, but we could check it on time. The Congress party raised voice within and played correctional role for the government all through, whether it was unemployment allowance, appointment of retirees, Gudia case or any other matter affecting public. In contrast, the Opposition BJP limited itself to walk outs in assembly at the cost of public issues and failed to play the strong opposition. Apart from this, we have given tickets to young faces this time, which will help.
Q: Congress again banked on octogenarian six-time CM for leadership in HP polls?
A: The leadership does not mean CM candidate only. It also has to do with the party organisation and local leaders. Congress is a mix of old and experienced; new and young leadership.
Q: CM Virbhadra Singh always wanted your replacement as party head?
A: I represent struggle and Virbhadra Singh power. I contested my first election when I was just 17-year-old and since then it has been continuous struggle. I headed NSUI, Youth Congress and I am now party chief in Himachal. I tried to give my best to strengthen the party organisation against the government and against Opposition BJP, as a strategy. The government can’t satisfy all the workers. Congress men who were upset with their own government were associated with the organization. So ultimately they remained with Congress in the polls.
Q: How do you compare Congress performance with BJP as a party in five years?
A: The BJP could not mobilise the party men and people and remained complacent, while we energised the ranks right from very beginning. Our programme ‘Modi Key Bol Jumlon ke dhol’ was successful as we touched the entire state to inform people about Modi’s promises and performance. The BJP thought it would anyway come back to power as per trend and remained complacent. But Congress party started its poll campaign six months back by carrying out ‘Path Yatra’ village to village to stay connected with people. We took the state government’s policies to people effectively.
Q: BJP swept the Parliament polls in 2014 in HP? How did it affect Congress?
A: It alerted us and we started working on the poll strategy. The party went for creation of smaller organisational districts despite opposition by seniors and asked the government to take corrective steps.
Q: What are the Congress prospects this time?
A: There are chances of repeat. The BJP leaders are predicting results in their own way. But if the BJP was so confident, there would not have been discussion and doubt on victory of some of its senior leaders across the state. You can see. The BJP started with 60 seats, came down to 50 and is now talking of even lesser seats. The BJP banked on the anti-incumbency against government, but the Congress used the anti-incumbency against sitting BJP MLAs (who have more than one or two continuous tenures) against them.
Q: What about your election in Nadaun?
A: I am comfortable this time. My constituency falls in Hamirpur, the home district of former BJP chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. I was elected in 2003 and 2007 when Congress and BJP came to power, respectively—it’s a paradox that I have been facing opposition from both, Prem Kumar Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh. I have survived despite that.