New Delhi, Jan. 6: In a turnaround from the Gujarat elections, the BJP has decided that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be its star campaigner during the Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh.
Both the party and Narendra Modi were not very keen on Vajpayee canvassing in the Gujarat polls. But “the Prime Minister has been asked to campaign a lot in Himachal, much more than in Gujarat”, BJP sources said.
Vajpayee’s personal links with Himachal and the fact that his government has been a lot more beneficial to the state than any previous government prompted the BJP’s reversal of stance, according to Himachal government sources.
Vajpayee has a home in Manali and the hill town being his favourite getaway, he goes there on holiday every year with his foster family. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s vacations, Himachal has regularly been bestowed with largesse. At the end of each sojourn, Vajpayee would announce economic and development packages at public meetings he addressed with chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
According to the state government’s website, himsuchana.org, in the last fours years of BJP rule, Himachal has received “special” central assistance of Rs 1,200 crore apart from “project-specific assistance of hundreds of crores”. “This is a record in itself as the state has never got such a huge central assistance earlier,” the site informs.
After the Prime Minister’s last visit, Himachal was granted Rs 200 crore as grant-in-aid, Rs 300 crore for rural infrastructure development and Rs 50 crore for construction of houses for Dalits under the Valmik Ambedkar Shahri Awaas Yojana. The state was also granted Rs 50 crore each for building 5,000 new houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana and as a “reward” for good work under the Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana and Rs 100 crore each for two districts of the state.
In addition, Vajpayee promised additional assistance in the Rs 1,900-crore annual plan proposed by the state government for 2002-2003, which entailed Rs 180 crore more than the funds allocated last year. Politically, what prompted the BJP to rope in Vajpayee was the perception that neither Hindutva nor militancy was likely to be big issues in the state. Himachal has a negligible Muslim population and although it has been attacked by militants, the issue might backfire on the BJP as the attacks have occurred under its regime.
Sources said Himachal has traditionally tended to vote for the party ruling at the Centre because of an “inherent feeling of insecurity smaller states have” and, therefore, Vajpayee’s presence during the elections would “reassure” the voters that their interests would be “adequately safeguarded” by Delhi.