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The Rediff Interview/Shanta Kumar
January 22, 2003
Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Shanta Kumar is confident the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party will win next month's assembly election with a comfortable majority.
The Union rural development minister heads a 12-member screening committee to recommend names of prospective candidates to the BJP central leadership.
He told Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh his party will not be affected even if its ally, Sukh Ram's Himachal Vikas Party, withdraws from the alliance. He also declared that his party rival, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, would continue in office if the BJP returned to power.
Is it true Chief Minister Dhumal and you do not get along and that this will harm the BJP's prospects in the assembly poll?
There is no truth in this allegation. This is a canard spread by the Congress in the hope that they would be able to defeat the BJP. Prem Kumar Dhumal will be chief minister if the BJP is returned to power. We are not going to let votes be divided for any reason.
Don't you think the anti-incumbency factor is working against you?
I do not deny we will have to cope with the anti-incumbency factor. But this is not going to affect the party's prospects to the extent that we would be defeated. We are going to win the election. We will have a comfortable majority.
What makes you optimistic when your ally Sukh Ram could decide to go it alone?
The Sukh Ram factor is not as strong this time as it was during the 1998 election. We are holding talks with him. Hopefully, we would be able to arrive at some understanding on seat adjustment. Even if we don't, we will counter his influence in the Mandi and Sundernagar belt where he hopes to get six or seven seats. We will give him a good fight.
The Congress is confident the BJP will be voted out of power.
I do not know on what grounds they claim we are going to be defeated. We have only one chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal. Whereas the Congress has (Pradesh Congress Committee) chief Virbhadara Singh and (senior Congress leader) Vidya Stokes challenging each other. They are fighting it out amongst themselves. They know it is now or never.
The infighting in the Congress is going to help the BJP.
Why should the people of Himachal Pradesh vote for you?
We are going to place our achievements before the people of Himachal Pradesh. We have made great strides in the direction of providing power. We have signed Memorandum of Understanding with private companies to produce power. Fifty such MOUs have been signed so far. The state has a potential of producing 20,000 mega watts units. If all the projects are completed in time we would be producing and distributing power to other states and making money.
Likewise, we have done good work in the field of drinking water. Several crore rupees have been sanctioned and schemes implemented in various districts of the state. Roads are being constructed in various parts of the state to link villages to main towns and cities under the Pradhan Mantri Sadak Rogzar Yojana. Under rural development we have also implemented various schemes to give a boost to the lives of the poor. The list of the BJP government's achievements is endless.
Two ministers have resigned in protest against denial of party tickets to them.
People keep leaving one party and join another on the eve of elections in any state. If you want to have a real idea about the BJP's popularity in Himachal Pradesh you should visit some of our district headquarters where thousands are lining up for party tickets. There are many places where I know more then 20 people are vying with each other to get the party's mandate for a particular seat. Only those who deserve it would get a party nomination. Merit would be the criterion.
Do you feel Hindutva will work in Himachal Pradesh just as it did in Gujarat?
I do not think Hindutva would work in Himachal Pradesh. The situation in our state is very different from the one that prevailed in Gujarat. Himachal is a peaceful state. Barring the border district of Chamba which witnessed some incidents of terrorist violence in the last few years, the rest of the state is peaceful. There is no impact of militancy whatsoever. We would have to stress more on the Dhumal government's achievements to win the election.
Who are your star campaigners? Will Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi be one of them?
We are going to have a galaxy of political leaders campaigning for the party. This includes Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, film star-politicians Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna; other Cabinet ministers Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharti, Pramod Mahajan, BJP President Venkaiah Naidu and host of other leaders. Of course, the services of Narendra Modi would be utilised to boost the party's chances in the state.
When will the party finalise the list of its candidates?
District level committees are screening the nominations. They will forward their choices to the state leadership. We will screen them and make our recommendations. We expect the final list to be declared on January 29 or 30 in New Delhi.
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