Following the BJP’s defeat in the recent Himachal Pradesh by-elections, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur faced criticism. In an interview with Liz Matthew, Thakur admitted that the party — which he felt could have been overconfident — and the government would need to introspect and work hard ahead of the 2022 Assembly election. Excerpts:
You faced a humiliating rout in the recent by-elections. How did that happen?
The by-election results were not as expected. We will definitely have internal discussions, introspection and would take the necessary steps to overcome the losses. But a large part of these constituencies — Mandi (lok Sabha), Arki, Fatehpur and Jubbal-Kotkhai (Assembly seats) — are traditional Congress seats. Besides, some of them also lie in the erstwhile kingdom of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. Congress sought votes in his name and Pratibha Singh got the sympathy votes in Mandi. Still, she won by the slimmest margin. The area that was part of his erstwhile kingdom gave her the lead. In Jubbal- Kotkhai, where the BJP fared very poorly, the son of the late MLA was expected to contest and the local party was keen on it. When the central leadership took a principled decision not to field the close relatives of leaders, he didn’t get a ticket. He contested independently but took the entire party machinery with him. The rank-and-file supported him, not the party’s official candidate. This has hurt the party very badly. It’s also a fact that the party in power doesn’t always win the by-elections.
Will you overhaul your cabinet?
We will sit and discuss the various reasons internally and make decisions for the future.
You have mentioned that the central leadership’s decision not to field a late MLA’s son led to him denting the BJP’s prospects. Do you think there should be some exception to this?
I don’t think so. A party like BJP is here today with the hard work of workers. If we promote dynasty politics, hundreds of deserving people will be sidelined. In dynasty politics, the family members will keep getting promoted. This is an injustice to the workers. I am confident that such a decision would help the party to be strong and robust in its democratic character in the future.
Has the national leadership of the BJP sought any explanation from you over the defeat?
No. I have had a conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J P Nadda. I told them that the results were not up to expectations and that we have to seriously think about the ways ahead. Yes, they have asked me to do an assessment, seek a report on what went wrong and what are the steps to be taken. There was no other discussion.
There is a view that there are too many power centres in the Himachal Pradesh BJP unit, and that in your pursuit to take everyone along, you failed to project yourself as a strong leader.
I don’t think that the party and the government should be run on one person’s likes and opinions. It’s a process of taking everyone along. I have tried to take everyone along but it’s true that we had to face defeat. So we will have to look into it and make amendments.
You mentioned in your speech today that Himachal Pradesh has achieved many milestones despite difficulties. It is a state that achieved 100 per cent vaccination. Do you think the party machinery has failed to take this message to voters?
I don’t think that way. I have worked very hard even during the Covid pandemic. One can see how Himachal has fared in Covid management. The party has worked well to take the flagship program to the ground. But I feel that there was a kind of overconfidence in us. We have to work more to reach the ground. I have sensed that.
Kangana Renaut, the national award-winning actress from Himachal Pradesh, has recently said that our Independence was given as alms and that real freedom came in 2014. What do you think about her comment?
She is into acting and does that well. It’s a matter of pride for us that she has received many awards and honours. Beyond that, I do not see any political affiliations or identity for her, at least not so far. There are some issues on which she may have personal views and she is free to express her views. But taking that as BJP’s line is not right. She is neither a member of the BJP nor has any responsibilities given by the party.
But you don’t see anything wrong in her remarks?
I don’t know what she was trying to say.
But there is a view that she has an inclination to join politics
I still have not seen anything. Neither from her nor from her family. I think she is just fascinated by the work done by the party. So far, that’s the situation. I don’t know what is coming up tomorrow.
Whenever you visit Delhi, there is speculation that you will be replaced
I sincerely do not know why it is so. No one from the party leadership told me so. But such rumours were always there since I took over as the Chief Minister. Some people get some kind of pleasure in talking like that. But no one from the top leadership ever indicated it to me. Before the by-election results, the party was always on a winning spree. But now some people got a chance to talk. But I know I have worked hard and tried my best to take the party forward. Of course, there needs to be introspection to see what are our shortcomings and work on them.
Traditionally, Himachal Pradesh chooses BJP and Congress alternatively. Does it make it a bigger challenge for you to face the elections? What are the areas you want to focus in the coming 10-11 months ahead of the polls.
Since 1985, it has been Congress and BJP alternatively. It is said that even the biggest and very efficient leaders could not return to power. So far, no one could. Definitely, it’s a big challenge. However, I can say with confidence that the opposition Congress has no major issue to point its fingers at us. The elections will take into account the good work done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The areas I will have to focus on are job generation, the issues of government employees, the connectivity as Himachal Pradesh depends on the tourism sector extensively and also the initiatives we have taken to remove poverty. But our targets have been disturbed by the Covid pandemic.. so the pace in which things were moving in the infrastructure sector also got affected. Himachal Pradesh is a state for which forest clearance for the development projects gets from the Supreme Court. It takes a while for us to get the required clearance. We need to improve the air connectivity also.
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