As the state is going to polls, each side has been promising to rid Himachal of the miasma of corruption and criminality created by the other
Ajay Singh | November 6, 2017
Campaigning in Himachal Pradesh early in November, prime minister Narendra Modi raised the pitch for good governance when he spoke about ridding the state of the five demons of mining mafia, forest mafia, tenders mafia, transfer mafia and drug mafia.
There is a special significance of this statement. It was here in Himachal that the phrase ‘good governance is bad politics’ took birth and was raised to the level of an electoral philosophy for the whole nation. Back in 1990-92 it was widely acknowledged that BJP’s Shanta Kumar, as chief minister, gave a good account of himself. But he fell foul of the state employees, a powerful political lobby, and lost the election.
The BJP’s resounding defeat in 1992 in the post-Babri mosque demolition phase convinced everybody that good governance can get headlines but not votes. It started off a thinking among political parties, whose commitment to good governance at any time was anyway very tenuous, that populism was an easier route to power.
Nowhere was this more manifest than in Himachal. The line between right and wrong, moral and immoral was completely blurred. And the mythological land of gods (Dev Bhoomi) came to be in the grip of all kinds of demons, of which Modi named only five.
Sukh Ram is a name that stands out. He is not an individual, he is a phenomenon. For a man who came to symbolise the ugly face of corruption in 1996, he is still a major draw in the politics of the state. Go to any place in his constituency, Mandi, and you will hear people singing paeans to his glory – even after his infamous conviction in 2011 for he is still seen as a victim. That is the precise reason he never lost his political relevance irrespective of political dispensations.
As the state is going to polls, each side has been promising to rid Himachal of the miasma of corruption and criminality created by the other. Yet people know in their heart of hearts that the politics of the state is essentially status-quoist. For instance, chief minister Virbhadra Singh promising to get rid of corruption is quite like the devil quoting the scriptures. Similarly, with Sukh Ram and his son on the BJP’s side, the party’s chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal is no less blemished.
There is another interesting aspect to the Himachal polls. Modi spent a lot of time in Himachal during his political exile from Gujarat after his falling out with the Shankarsinh Vaghela faction of the BJP in 1995. As the BJP’s secretary, he practically adopted Himachal as his home. In his nearly five-year stint, he extensively travelled across the hill state and rebuilt the party from scratch.
BJP leaders in the state still talk about two distinct political phases: before Modi and after Modi. In the before Modi phase, the state’s BJP leadership was divided into factions led by stalwarts and local satraps. There was hardly any attempt to build an organisational structure. First up, Modi mobilised the party workers and enlisted them for a training course. At the same time, he introduced computerisation at the district-level much to the chagrin of stalwarts like Shanta Kumar who was initially sceptical of
the electoral efficacy of the moves.
The turning point for the state came in 1997 when the BJP was precariously balanced against the Congress which formed the government but could not sustain the majority. The manner in which Modi won over Sukh Ram and persuaded a Congress legislator to take over the post of the speaker in order to avoid the anti-defection law and turn the tables on the Congress is a stuff of a political legend. Modi persuaded the central leadership to appoint Dhumal as the chief minister instead of Shanta Kumar who used to draw his clout on account of his seniority and proximity to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. That move effectively eclipsed Shanta Kumar.
Modi has as much at stake in winning Himachal as in Gujarat. He has a good sense of the pulse of the people and his latest narrative of Himachal being ruled by the five mafias might strike a chord. Himachal’s ecology, social serenity and innate spirituality are all becoming increasingly vulnerable to the onslaught of these mafias. In the higher reaches of the Himalayas closer to the Kullu and Manali valley, the menace of drug mafias has been upending the social order and tranquility.
By talking about the ‘five demons’ in a Dev Bhoomi, Modi is acknowledging the deep social angst and giving it public articulation. But there’s a hitch. Even if the people believe Modi can get rid of the Congress, there is still no guarantee they would not be dealing with the five demons under the state BJP watch.
This article has originally appeared on FirstPost.com
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