Himachal Pradesh, much like Uttarakhand, will break the myth of a hill state not voting the ruling party back to power, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity is a weapon for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in even the smallest elections in India, Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has said.
Speaking at the 20th edition of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Dhami said that Uttarakhand will soon have a draft proposal ready for the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the state, and expressed happiness that UCC has also been promised by the state governments of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The 47-year-old, who is one of the BJP’s star campaigners in next month’s Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, said nobody has worked as hard for India’s Himalayan states as Modi has. “He has worked for upliftment and development. You can see his attachment to the Himalayan states, whether it is Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh. Wherever I have gone to campaign, I have been told that those who work will be rewarded,” Dhami said.
The chief minister said that Modi’s personal popularity was the BJP’s trump card in combating anti-incumbency even in the smallest poll contests, and proved decisive in assembly elections. “His popularity is a trump card. He has done everything, whether it is for women’s empowerment, for the youth or for the marginalised. Even when it is a small election, Modiji is always a factor. In state elections, he is a big factor,” Dhami said.
Speaking to HT’s national political editor Sunetra Choudhury, Dhami said that Himachal Pradesh will follow Uttarakhand in re-electing the BJP, and that people now sought continuity in government and continuity in development. “For a long time, this myth has been perpetrated and this myth (that no government is re-elected) will be broken. Continuity in development will only happen when there is continuity in government,” Dhami said.
Asked about the challenge the BJP has been facing from within in Himachal Pradesh, with several ticket aspirants turning rebels, Dhami said that the popularity of the BJP meant that “everyone wants to fight elections”. “But these decisions are made on the given circumstances of the moment and with a lot of thought. The people connected with our party understand this,” he said.
Dhami lashed out at the Congress, and said that the governments run by them tried to “end the identity” of India’s hill states.
“Whether it is Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh, those governments have always tried to end the identity of the state. They used to think these are just small states; they only have four or five representatives in Parliament, and don’t matter. They were, therefore, ignored and now people have experienced the speed of work that has taken place in the last eight years under Prime Minister Modi,” Dhami said.
He also dismissed the campaign of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is attempting to make a dent in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and said that the BJP had no real challengers. “I had said before the Uttarakhand elections when the AAP had come here and were carrying out a loud campaign that many people come to the state for tourism. They will all go back after the elections. The elections took place, and the AAP made no dent whatsoever. This shows that the people stand with the country, with nationalism and they are not swayed by election promises,” Dhami said.
Six months after his government constituted a five member-committee under retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Desai to draft a policy on the implementation of UCC, a core electoral promise, Dhami said that quick progress was being made, and a draft could be expected “soon”.
Even as his administration has been shrouded in criticism of its handling of the Ankita Bhandari case – the 19-year-old receptionist at a hotel run by Pulkit Arya, son of now-expelled BJP leader Vinod Arya, went missing, and was found dead six days later – Dhami said that he was committed to bringing the accused to justice. “There was understandable anger with such an incident because Ankita was our daughter, the state’s daughter. At the government level, we arrested those that were involved in the case. We started an SIT investigation, and we are doing everything possible to bring them to justice. Some want to make this a political issue. All of us want – I, Pushkar Singh Dhami want – that the accused should get the strongest punishment possible,” he said.
He also defended the government from allegations of destruction of evidence, after parts of the hotel where the crime took place were demolished by a bulldozer. “Whatever happened with the bulldozer in those circumstances aside, people are making an unnecessary issue that evidence was destroyed. The head of the SIT has told court that the evidence had been already collected and videography conducted, so there is no question of tampering with evidence.”