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‘Despite Covid, We Have Done A Lot Of Work’: Himachal CM Jairam Thakur

Himachal Pradesh CM Jairam Thakur talks to Outlook’s Ashutosh Bhardwaj on several issues ranging from the Khalistan challenge in Himachal, Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on Gyanvapi to student politics of the state. Edited excerpts:

‘Despite Covid, We Have Done A Lot Of Work’: Himachal CM Jairam Thakur
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As Himachal Pradesh prepares for elections later this year, Jairam Thakur completes his first term as chief minister. The five-term MLA bec­ame the CM after the unanimous candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal lost the assembly elections in 2017. Thakur spoke to Outlook’s Ashutosh Bhardwaj on several issues ranging from the Khalistan challenge in Himachal, Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on Gyanvapi to student politics of the state. Edited excerpts.

Khalistani flags and slogans have appeared in several parts of Himachal Pradesh in the election year. What is its political significance?

It’s an unfortunate development. Our neighbouring state recently elected a new government by a new party. This change has encouraged some forces there. You can see Khalistani flags, slogans and posters in that state. In Himachal, these were seen at the Vidhan Sabha gate in Dharamshala. Our police acted on it and arrested two persons in Punjab. But it’s strange that when such things take place in Punjab, no action is taken against anyone. A rocket was recovered from there. (Sidhu) Moosewala was murdered. People carry AK-47s. When such things happen in the neighbouring state, it can adversely affect us.

You are examining the implementation of a uniform civil code in your state. Large parts of Himachal Pradesh, like Spiti and Lahaul, are inhabited by tribal communities who have different customs and rituals. Do you expect any resistance from them?

I have asked officials to legally examine it (UCC). I don’t think there will be any major difficulty in executing and implementing it in the state. There is no resistance from their (tribes) side. They are cooperating with us.

Is it going to be in your election manifesto?

Yes, it can be.

Your state has two tall BJP leaders with a strong national presence, party president J.P. Nadda and Union minister Anurag Thakur. How do you coordinate with them? There’s also a power tussle in your state. How do you manage it?

We have wonderful relations with everyone. Nadda ji is our national president and carries a big responsibility. We are fortunate to have the BJP president from our small state. He guides us, cooperates with us. Anurag Thakur has carved his own path, from cricket to the Union ministry, where he holds an important portfolio. There’s no power tussle in Himachal. Everybody works together. I’ve never faced any issue.

You’ve been an RSS full-timer. How have you seen the Sangh evolving?

You can understand the Sangh only after you go inside it. (Over the years) the Sangh has become enormously more open, bringing people from various sections into its fold.  Earlier, the focus was on the shakha and grooming of the swayamsevak, but the last 10-15 years have seen a massive exp­ansion. The RSS work is not limited to the morning and evening shakhas. There’s a belief that Sangh’s swayamsevaks should come from every walk of life. Today, the RSS is present in all fields of life, has networks in all sections of society and works on all issues related to society.

How do you see Mohan Bhagwat’s recent statement on the Gyanvapi that there’s no need to look for a shivling in every mosque?

I think what he meant was that we all should create a situation to move together. If in that (Gyanvapi) mosque a shivling has been found, then the (Muslim) society should accept that their ancestors committed a mistake and the place, as per the evidence found there, should be dedicated to that (Hindu) religion.

So if a shivling is found, there should be a Shiva temple there?

If a shivling has been found there, the (Muslim) society should come forward and accept and say that if our ancestors have committed such a mistake, and now when the evidence is before you... show a large heart. There was a long legal fight for the Ram temple before the court’s decision came and everyone accepted it. It’d be good if the court decides on this (Gyanvapi) case too on the basis of the evidence found.

There was a long legal fight for the Ram temple before the court’s decision came and everyone accepted it. It would be good if the court decides on Gyanvapi too on the basis of the evidence found.

The year you became MLA for the second time, 1998, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the prime minister.  You have seen both Vajpayee and Narendra Modi. Compare the two PMs,  not as the CM, but as a citizen.

Atalji won over the people with a different style, Modiji has another style. From small schoolchildren, youth, to elderly, everyone has respect for Modiji. It’s rare. Bachche se lekar buzurg tak, jahan Modiji kii baat aati hai, ladne ko pad jaate hain, katai bhi unke bare mein sunne ke liye taiyar nahin. (From kids to elderly persons, when it comes to Modiji, people won’t listen to anything against him and are prepared to fight.)

Himachal has two active student groups, the ABVP and the SFI, with the NSUI having a poor presence. But during the assembly and Lok Sabha elections, communist parties disappear and the Congress emerges as the leading party. What accounts for this?

The span of student life is not long. You can do student politics only as long as you are a student. You have greater enthusiasm during student days. Communists are able to appeal for a brief period, but unable to carry their ideological foundations for long and eventually most of the people with communist backgrounds, when they enter politics, join the Congress. They know that communist parties have no future. We also find that even while they (SFI-affiliated youth) are studying in colleges and universities, instead of voting for their candidate, they vote for the Congress. The Congress’s student organisation is poor because they are not active (on the ground). They don’t have the trait to struggle. It’s not in their samskara.

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Show of strength AAP workers take out a rally in Himachal Pradesh

Drug usage is widespread in Himachal Pradesh. The government doesn’t seem serious about the issue.

No, we are serious. After forming the government in Himachal, I had undertaken a review of the home department and found that a large number of drug-related cases were against people who were not from Himachal. These were from our neighbouring states. I realised that irr­espective of the controls I put in my state, we need to coordinate with the neighbouring states. I spoke to chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and held several meetings. We formed a joint strategy and shared intelligence inputs to conduct joint operations. We also decided to set up an office in Panchkula with representatives from all these states. For the first time in Himachal, we decided to attach the property of those involved (in drug trade).

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But, I agree that drugs are still prevailing. It’s a matter of concern.

You are completing your first term as the chief minister. What have been the achievements of this tenure?

Despite the time we lost to Covid, we have done a lot of innovative work and introduced new schemes for targeted sections. We introduced Jan Manch where ministers and district administration visit villages on every first Sunday of the month and address their complaints. Over 50,000 complaints have been resolved through this mode. On the line of Ayushman Bharat, we introduced the Him Care Yojana that provides an extra health cover. So far, 2.5 lakh people have received free treatment under this scheme. Under the Mukhyamantri Sahara Yojana, we directly send Rs 3,000 every month to people suffering with serious ailments. Some 2,000 people have benefited from this scheme so far. Himachal received 1.37 lakh gas connections under Ujjwala Yojana, but a large number of poor were still left out because they didn’t meet the criteria. For such people we launched Mukhyamantri Grihini Suvidha Yojana. Today, with 3.31 lakh gas connections, Himachal is the first state to have gas connections at every home. We also introduced the Shagun Yojana, under which we give Rs 31,000 during the marriage of a BPL girl.

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Where is the AAP? It left even before it arrived. It had to close down the state unit. There are only two parties in Himachal, BJP and Congress.

In what areas has your work been found lacking? The Shimla airport is in a poor state.

There are some projects which we hope to complete in future. Himachal Pradesh is a big tourist destination, but connectivity is an issue. I wanted a Chandigarh-Manali four-lane highway, but the company couldn’t perform and we floated a new tender. Shimla-Kangra and Pathankot-Mandi are other four-lane projects that we’d like to complete this year.

We are widening the Shimla airport. Its airstrip is too small, just 1200 metre, but we are trying. The expansion of Kangra airport is also on. I don’t know why the previous governments didn’t think about it.

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The Aam Aadmi Party is making an entry into Himachal. Can it make the fight triangular as we have seen in the neighbouring Punjab?

Media people are saying that the AAP is coming, but we can’t see them coming at all. Where is the AAP? It left even before it arrived. It  had to close down the state unit. There are only two parties in Himachal, BJP and Congress. Unlike Punjab, Himachal is not so easy for AAP.

(This appeared in the print edition as "‘Despite Covid, We Have Done a Lot of Work’")

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