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The many challenges awaiting Himachal's new CM

December 19, 2017 14:22 IST

Fund crunch may come in the way of infrastructure development; women’s safety another issue that will be in focus, reports Aditi Phadnis.

With no clarity on who will be the new chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, the challenges for the Bharatiya Janata Party in running this state are going to be colossal. 

-- Himachal Pradesh polls: Full coverage

Towards the end of the campaign, Prem Kumar Dhumal was announced as the party’s chief ministerial face. Many in the party had celebrated. Although, at 75, Dhumal was seen as an interim chief minister, he was also seen as a uniting factor, a senior in the faction-ridden BJP.

No one had expected him to lose his Sujanpur seat to Congress’s Rajinder Rana. In fact, Dhumal had changed his seat from Hamirpur, from where he was a sitting member of the legislative assembly. Varinder Kanwar, who won from Kutlehar in Una district, has offered to vacate his seat for Dhumal.

 

A possible CM face now could be J P Nadda, Union health minister. He is a Rajya Sabha member from Himachal, and was an elected MLA in 1993, 1998 and 2007, when he was given the portfolios of forests and environment as well as science and technology.

He was associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad during his student days in Patna. His father was the vice-chancellor of Ranchi University in 1977.

However, Nadda, a Brahmin, could find the odds against him because of his caste in a state where Thakurs rule the roost, thanks to their numerical strength of over 28 per cent.

However, finding a chief minister is the least onerous of the BJP’s problems. In its manifesto, the BJP had pledged to end “mafia raj” -- the alleged nexus between forest and mining contractors and government officials. Women’s safety in the state was also hotly debated, especially after the rape of a young woman near Shimla. The BJP promised to make it safer for women to venture out alone. The party, borrowing a leaf out of the Madhya Pradesh unit’s election book, had also promised senior citizens free pilgrimages.

Fulfilling these promises would cause no pain. What would make a dent in the finances is infrastructure creation -- the promise that roads would be built to every village and that compensation be raised for land acquired in developmental projects.

Road-building has been neglected because of a fund crunch -- on account of the state government’s policy on compensation. When the Centre announced liberalisation of compensation for land acquired for government projects, state governments were given the independence to fix compensation.

When the Virbhadra Singh government decided to build a four-lane Nagchala-Kullu-Manali road, this was a problem the project had ran into. He had conceded that land losers would be paid only factor one (double the value of the land) because the state government could not afford to pay four times its value. Finally, the Centre had to take over the project.

The new BJP government is tied down by its manifesto promise of paying a compensation that is four times the value. The new government would have to work out how.

Image: Prem Kumar Dhumal, announced as the party’s chief ministerial face on the eve of the election, was seen as a uniting factor, a senior in the faction-ridden BJP. No one expected him to be defeated.

Aditi Phadnis
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