Racing against the clock, the Bharatiya Janata Party has gone into firefighting mode in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The party is in power in this state under the leadership of Jai Ram Thakur. The saffron party faces strong opposition in power, and repeating a government in a state that has alternated between parties so far will not be an easy task.
A fruit growers’ unrest led by apple growers could not have come at a worse time for the ruling party. After a massive show of force in Shimla on August 5 by the fruit growers, the government held another round of talks with representatives of Sanyukta Kisan Manch.
According to a statement released by the SKM, the chief state secretary said a committee would oversee the determination of the purchase prices for apples in corporate-owned climate-controlled stores, and that grower representatives of fruit would be part of the committee.
But the arborists continue to point out that none of the demands mentioned in their 20-point charter of demands have been implemented on the ground, while the government has accepted their arguments.
In addition, the state government is also haunted by the issues of unemployment, rising prices, and widespread resentment of the Agnipath program when recruiting into the defense forces. Civil servants are also agitated on the question of old-age pensions.
The Congress party, on the other hand, has been trying to pull itself together in addition to sharpening its attacks on the ruling party. Its leaders have already hit the ground running with Pratibha Singh, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and others making hectic tours across the state. The Aam Aadmi party also offers hyperlocal programs almost daily.
And with Congress having managed to bring a few top BJP leaders into its fold, it has added to the concerns of the BJP who are now trying to keep their herd together. Recently, Khimi Ram, a former minister and BJP state chairman, had joined the Congress, alongside Indu Verma, wife of former BJP MP Theog Rakesh Verma. Theog was also represented by congressional heavyweight Vidya Stokes in the past.
This led the BJP to bring two of its rebels back into its ranks. They are Urmil Thakur from Hamirpur and Chetan Bragta from Jubbal Kotkhai. Bragta is the son of former BJP minister Narendra Bragta and contested the poll as an independent last year after being denied the ticket by the saffron party. The seat poll saw him lose with official party candidate Neelam Seraik losing her bail. The seat had been won by Rohit Thakur of Congress.
The party also inducted Rakesh Chaudhary who contested Dharamshala’s partial poll as an independent last year and came second. Earlier, he inducted two sitting independent MPs, Hoshiyar Singh, who represents Dehra constituency, as well as Prakash Rana from Jogindernagar constituency.
While the former beat Ravinder Ravi, who is a loyalist of former BJP chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, the latter won Congress heavyweight Gulab Singh in the latest polls. Ravi has reportedly announced his decision to contest the upcoming Dehra or Sulah polls, whether or not the party gives him a ticket.
We also learn that there is unrest over inductions, as the question circulating is whether such inductions automatically mean a promise of a party ticket to contest future polls.
Besides inductions and efforts to keep his flock together, Jai Ram Thakur’s government has gone into overdrive to appease restless horticulturalists in addition to showering.
Thakur himself met with a delegation of apple growers on July 28 and announced the establishment of a committee under Chief Secretary RD Dhiman to check the exploitation of horticulturists by traders, owners of private atmosphere-controlled stores and others at different levels.
He also announced a 6% subsidy on the purchase of packaging materials such as cartons and trays sold through the National Company for the Marketing and Processing of Horticultural Products starting July 15. He said that efforts would be made to settle the outstanding debts of the horticulturists and also asked the authorities concerned to look into the issue of the recovery of taxes and fees collected at the various barriers.
Thakur said his government would also sympathetically consider forming a horticultural council for the welfare of horticulturists.
He came out tweeting: “Apple prices in Himachal Pradesh will not be decided by private companies but by a committee which has been set up by our government. In addition, our government has also established 19 e-Nam mandis to protect apple growers from being cheated.”
The state government also reportedly withdrew the direct benefit transfer scheme introduced last year for fruit growers that required them to purchase pesticides from the market and then apply for reimbursement of the subsidies. The old system of purchasing subsidized pesticides is being restored.
But fruit growers continued their protest announced on August 5 in favor of a 20-point demand charter. They are annoyed that there is no representative among them on the committee announced by the government.
“Furthermore, the announced mechanism for reimbursement of the 6% Goods and Services Tax subsidy would only add to the harassment of around two million small producers. These producers would have to travel up to 50 km to ‘to a horticulture department for reimbursement of such a small amount as Rs 400. If he has to do more than two rounds, the financial burden on him would only increase,’ said Sanjay Chauhan, co -organizer of the Sanyukta Kisan Manch, an umbrella organization of 27 farmers’ groups which is spearheading the agitation.
Fruit growers are also agitated by promises made by the government that have not materialized. Observers say the continued unrest by fruit growers is the largest the state has seen in more than three decades.
August 5 also saw congressional protests in the districts over the issues of soaring prices, unemployment and the Agnipath program.
Meanwhile, continuing its campaign to advertise sops, the state cabinet on Monday decided to fill 320 positions in various categories under the National Health Mission on a contractual basis. He also announced the modernization of health facilities and the opening of new centers in various locations, with special emphasis on Ayurvedic centers.