When the Jai Ram Thakur government took over in Himachal Pradesh on 27 December 2017, in a sudden twist of fortune, people in the hill state looked to the new leadership in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with a lot of hope.
With young first time Chief Minister1 Jai Ram Thakur (53) heading a Council of Ministers, half of them first timers, people saw it as a new beginning for Himachal Pradesh, which, for the past two decades, was stuck in a personal battle between former CMs Virbhadra Singh (Congress) and Prem Kumar Dhumal (BJP).
Thakur holds a lot of promise with his simplicity, grassroots understanding, clean image and down-to-earth approach towards one and all.
However, over three months on, his government is struggling a bit with the new faces unable to break the administrative and political ‘cliques’ in the corridors of power. When asked how the government is running most BJP leaders in the state say “It takes some time to settle down. We need to wait and watch.”
This apprehension was addressed by the Chief Minister at a media briefing on his completion of 100 days in office earlier this month when he admitted that everyone, including the media and bureaucracy has doubts about his working style. “Whenever there is a new person and new responsibility it takes time to settle down,” he said. “But I think, we, including ministers, have been able to handle the budget session well,” he added.
The government claims to have achieved 472 of the 550 targets set for the first 100 days in different departments. It claims to have proposed 28 new schemes for different categories in the budget for 2018-19 and has shown a compassionate approach towards all sections. Whether lowering the age of elderly social security pensioners from 80 to 70 for higher pension, raising honorarium of anganwadi workers, showing concern for PTA/PAT teachers (who were uneasy in the Dhumal regime), Thakur’s government has tried to be considerate.
However, the changeover in Himachal has not changed many things.
The bureaucracy, which was in for a surprise with Dhumal’s defeat and Jai Ram Thakur’s rise, is still unable to catch up with ‘aspirations and culture’ of the new government and vice versa. The new political bosses and the bureaucrats have visibly failed to strike a balance.
The BJP government, which talked of the need for austerity in the cash-strapped state from day one, has not taken any major steps in this direction. Every time he is asked, the CM sayd, “So far, we have not gone in for new cars for ministers and I have told everyone not to go for lavish renovation of houses.”
The government has also said that it will go slow on the appointment of chairmen and vice chairmen of government bodies. The previous Congress government had over 45 such appointees. In the wake of the Delhi High Court order, the government is also hesitant about appointing parliamentary secretaries.
.However, the BJP government went in for some political appointments within a few days of taking over, just as the Congress had previously. The government’s move to give cabinet and state minister’s status respectively to the Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip of the ruling party by passing a Bill in the budget session of the Assembly amid vehement opposition from the Congress, has drawn flak.
“They never made their targets of 100 days public and just said they have achieved it. Who believes it? It is an eye wash,” said state Congress president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu.
He alleged that the BJP government said it was against extensions to officials but extensions are still being given, and transfers have continued unabated since the government took over.
“We don’t understand what is the vision of this government, and what difference are they making in governance. They have not spelt out concrete steps to check corruption,” added Sukhu.