Himachal BJP chief: ‘State follows a two-party system, no space for third (AAP)…There is no strong Opposition’

Himachal Pradesh BJP president Suresh Kumar Kashyap, a former Air Force man, is a two-term MLA and currently represents the Shimla (SC) constituency in Parliament. On his way to attend the recent BJP national office-bearers’ meeting in Jaipur, he stopped over in New Delhi. He talked to The Indian Express about his tenure at the helm of the state unit, the AAP, and the Assembly elections scheduled for later this year.

Excerpts:

On July 22, you will be two years as Himachal BJP president. How has your tenure been till now?
I never imagined I would become state BJP president one day. MLA ban gaye, MP bhi lagata tha ban jayenge (Became MLA and it seemed would become MP as well). But state BJP chief … that thought never crossed my mind. Anyhow, I have been giving my 100 per cent to whatever the party is asking me to do.

When I took over, it was Covid time. There was not much to be done in politics but there was a lot to be done in social service. So, we served people in whatever way we could. Our workers — be it from the BJP, the Yuva Morcha, the Mahila Morcha or other morchas — did a brilliant job. In all, we distributed five lakh packets of cooked food, more than one lakh ration kits, and 50 lakh masks. We convinced people about vaccination and removed their apprehensions about side effects. We also contributed around Rs 10 crore to the CM Covid fund and PM Cares Fund.

As regards organisation, Himachal BJP is the first in the country to introduce the concept of Tridev — booth president, booth level agent, and booth guardian. The Himachal BJP is also the first in the country to digitise the data of workers at 7,792 booths. This digitisation was verified through OTP (one-time password). (BJP national president JP) Naddaji is impressed with the Himachal BJP model and wants to replicate it elsewhere as well.

We are not stuck with Panna Pramukh (electoral roll page chief) only, we have progressed to Panna Committees comprising a Panna Pramukh and two assistants.

How has your experience working with the state government?
Sarkar aur sangthan mein samanvay hai. Saath milkar kaam karate hain. Achchha taalmel hai (There is coordination between the party and the government. We work together and there is good harmony).

Many believe the Congress victory in the by-polls last year was not because of the Congress, it was because of the BJP. Their argument is: If the Congress had been fighting fit, they would not have effected organizational changes just six-seven months before the Assembly elections.
Yes, we were undone by overconfidence. We won in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, we won in the 2017 Assembly elections, we won in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and we swept the panchayat elections. All these things contributed to our overconfidence. Also, there was a sympathy wave for the former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh who died of Covid last year.

And fighting?
There is no fighting. We are united.

But former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal did not campaign in the by-elections.
It was because of a tragedy in his close relations. He had to cancel all the scheduled programs because of this. I had to address one of his scheduled rallies. Otherwise, all senior leaders, including (former CM) Shanta Kumarji and (Union Minister) Anurag Thakurji, campaigned.

Are the next Assembly elections going to be tough as you will be taking on the AAP as well?
Not at all. AAP leaders have just come to fight elections. After seeing the ground situation, they don’t know whether they should fight elections or build the organization first. Recently, their top office-bearers joined us. More are likely to come. Moreover, Himachal follows the two-party system: BJP and Congress. There is no space for a third one.

When you say two parties, it is also a fact that neither of them has been able to win a second consecutive term for a long, long time.
That’s true. But this time we are going to change that equation.

How?
By the time we go to polls, we will have more than eight years of (Narendra) Modi government at the Center and five years of Jai Ram Thakur government in the state. Both the governments have done really well and people are happy with their performance.

We have already launched a mega public contact program Chalein booth ki or, badhein jeet ki or (let’s go towards booth, let’s move towards victory). All of us are working very hard. Modiji is visiting the state on May 31 to mark the completion of three years of his second term as Prime Minister. He is likely to visit again next month for three days. Like (former Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji, Modiji considers Himachal as his second home. He has been in charge of Himachal BJP affairs. He knows the state and its people very well. (Union Ministers) Amit Shahji, Rajnath Singhji, Nitin Gadkariji, Anurag Thakurji and Smriti Iraniji will visit too.

Vipaksh muddaviheen hai (The Opposition does not have an issue to fight elections on). In fact, there is no strong Opposition. There is no representation in public. There is no anti-incumbency against the government, although it could be against a few persons in the government. Just look at the results of the recent Assembly elections. We bucked anti-incumbency in four states.

But the Opposition, especially the AAP, alleges things are going from bad to worse in education, health, and other sectors in the hill state.
They are trying to mislead people. But things are certainly going from bad to worse in Delhi. The AAP government there is a failure. According to information obtained under the RTI Act, 745 out of 1,030 government schools in Delhi do not have a principal. There are 16,834 vacancies for teacher posts in government schools and only 330 government schools offer the science stream. In the health sector, before (Arvind) Kejriwal became chief minister, there were 38 government hospitals. Even after seven years of his rule, there are still 38 government hospitals in Delhi. In 2016, there were 10,926 beds in government hospitals. In 2022, the number of beds reached 13,844. Only 2,918 beds have been added, out of which 1,800 have been arranged with the help of the PM Cares Fund. Yeh hai Delhi model.

As far as Himachal is concerned, we are competing with Kerala in education. In healthcare, Himachal is number one. We are doing very well in women’s potential.

Will you be fielding Bollywood personalities, particularly Kangana Ranaut, who is from Mandi, in the elections?

We have not done this experiment of fielding Bollywood actors in Himachal yet. As far as Kangana is concerned, there is no such talk from either side. We will see when the right time comes.

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