With a rebel BJP candidate in Himachal Pradesh’s Jubbal-Kotkhai by-poll, the contest seems easier for Congress candidate Rohit Thakur in a triangular fight between two dynasts and a “commoner”.
Grandson of former CM Ram Lal Thakur, Rohit Thakur (47) has won the constituency twice since 2003. In one of his rallies at BJP candidate Neelam Seraik’s native village Kayari, just 20 km away from CM Jai Ram Thakur’s public meeting the same day, he sounded calm and confident.
On the BJP’s denial of ticket to Chetan Bragta (44), son of three-time MLA Narender Bragta, he says it is the internal matter of the saffron party. Taking a jibe he says, “Basically, both Chetan and Neelam Seraik are associated with one party. Even the colour of the election symbol ‘Apple’ of Bragta is saffron.”
While speaking at a public meeting at Kotkhai, CM Jai Ram Thakur rather than attacking Rohit Thakur justifies the selection of candidature of “commoner” Neelam Seraik.
He adds, “We have to respect the party’s decision to give a chance to a party worker instead of a dynast. The BJP is a party of workers and has allowed its grassroots activists to rise as MPs, MLAs, and office bearers.”
He also draws a parallel to the likes of PM Narender Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and himself who have had no political lineage.
“We cannot be bigger than the party, hence we should accept the decision of the party,” he says, in an attempt to rationalise the denial of ticket to Bragta.
As the election campaign in the area intensifies, the priorities of the Congress, BJP, and independent candidates are similar. The issues related to the apple crop, its marketing, cold storage, irrigation, power, self-employment, and tourism are on their agenda.
A woman voter Sundari of Kyari says, “Price rise has made the survival of the poor difficult. The link roads are in shambles but politicians are hardly addressing it.” A resident of Kotkhai, Suraj Sharma, who is an apple farmer, complains of lack of water for irrigating apple plants.”Tanks were constructed four-five years ago, but there is no water. Repairs are required too. Apple saplings should be provided on subsidised rates.”
Rohit Thakur says, “The issues of the apple farmers will be taken up with priority by us and the main focus will be to strengthen the horticulture-based industry.”
He adds, “My priorities are to complete the unfinished tasks of our party that have been stalled for four years since the BJP government has come to power. The performance of the double-engine government at the Centre and state has been disappointing.”
Neelam Seraik also talks about strengthening apple farmers with more cold storage and improving marketing. She promises to encourage tourism-related activities like homestay on the lines of Manali to arrest unemployment. Besides horticulture, Bragta takes a pledge to end the problem of water shortage and to work for the expansion of the road network.