|Manmohan Singh at Ramlila Maidan on Sunday. Picture
by Ramakant Kushwaha
Shimla, Nov. 4: If the BJP fails to hold on to Himachal Pradesh, here’s one reason. Monkeys.
The vanar sena has hit back with vengeance at the party, which had declared war on the simians to honour a promise to the people.
The primates, a key issue in the hill state because of the menace they pose to crops, had figured prominently in the party’s 2007 manifesto and were said to be one of the reasons behind its success in the last elections.
The manifesto had promised a “permanent solution”, which included sterilising and even licence to shoot them.
Never mind they helped Ram — the legendary warrior the BJP swears by — to build a bridge to Lanka.
Now the monkeys in Himachal — the state logged a record 75 per cent voter turnout today against the 2002 high of 73 per cent — appear to have got their own back, because the BJP couldn’t get them off its back.
Despite several efforts, the government has not been able to find a solution. Result: the monkeys have been wreaking havoc and multiplying every year.
Now voters are asking the BJP, which has unfailingly invoked Ram to score political points, what happened to its promise.
State forest minister Khimi Ram conceded that the long-tailed denizens had made a monkey out of the party.
“We tried several measures and solved the problem to some extent but not fully,” the minister said, before trying to shift some of the blame to the Congress-led central government. “The Centre, too, is responsible as it turned down our request to lift the ban on export of monkeys for research that used to happen earlier,” the minister added.
According to a farmers’ organisation, Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, the monkeys, said to number around 3.5 lakh in Himachal, damage crops worth Rs 500 crore every year.
The government did draw up a plan to catch the simians and sterilise them. Two big parks were planned, one in Shimla and the other in Hamirpur, about 5-6 hours by road from the state capital, to lure the monkeys with food so they could be caught and sterilised.
Some 25,000 monkeys were sterilised, according to government figures, but the plan failed to provide a lasting solution.
First, the government couldn’t find enough trained monkey catchers. Then the monkeys soon caught on: they stopped coming to the parks.
The government then passed a legislation in the Assembly to give legal rights to farmers to kill monkeys and other wild animals that harm their crops.
It didn’t work. While animal rights groups were outraged, farmers refused to kill the simians, considering it a sacrilege since they are regarded as descendants of Hanuman.
“The government agreed to give us gun licences and said we could kill the animals. At first we agreed but later no one was ready to kill monkeys,” said Harinarayan Panwar, a farmer in Theog, some 30km from Shimla.
The government then decided to appoint guards during crop seasons under the Centre’s rural job scheme. This plan failed too because of the failure of agencies to implement it properly on the ground.
The efforts cost the government over Rs 3.5 crore, but farmers were angry. “Politicians are only interested in filling their pockets,” said Balraj Sharma, a farmer in Hamirpur, chief minister P.K. Dhumal’s constituency. “They have done nothing for farmers. To control monkeys they promised guards but nothing has happened.”
While the BJP has been trying to get the issue off its back, one of its leaders put his foot in the mouth.
At a rally on Thursday in Kangra, where the chief minister’s son Anurag Thakur was one of the speakers, a woman had come with a langur to remind him of the government’s failed promise to solve the monkey menace.
Thakur said the langur “resembledů (he named a rival)”. The crowd wasn’t amused and BJP workers had to pacify the agitated villagers.
Kangra, once considered a BJP stronghold, is said to be not too favourable for the party this time.
“The remark can cost us dear,” said a senior BJP leader.