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'Riwaaz', Old Pension Scheme, Indira Gandhi: Priyanka Gandhi’s Poll Pitch In Himachal

In an unprecedented poll move in Himachal Pradesh, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi invoked the late Indira Gandhi and remembered her contribution to grant statehood to Himachal Pradesh on January 25, 1971.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Mandi
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With top leaders joining the campaign for the crucial assembly elections 2022 in Himachal Pradesh - a state known for alternating between the ruling party and the Opposition  every five years Congress has pulled out all stops to debunk the ruling BJP’s slogan "Raj Nahin Riwaaz Badlenge (the custom of alternating governments will change instead of power)

Amping up the campaign, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, who has taken the command of the party’s campaign in Himachal Pradesh, told the voters to stick to the tradition of changing governments every five years.

“You have an established tradition of changing governments after every five years. This is a good thing in Himachal Pradesh. It keeps the mind of leaders right. The custom of alternating between governments must continue," she appealed at a massive poll rally in the state recently. 

This was her second rally after one held at Solan already. 

Gandhi, who has a house in Shimla, was described by Congress leaders as a "native" of Himachal Pradesh. Gandhi’s tone and tenor were typically targeted to counter Modi’s strong influence in Himachal Pradesh. The BJP is largely banking on Modi's charisma and his connection with the people of the state.

The BJP swept the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, winning all four seats. It did exceptionally well in the 2017 Himachal assembly elections winning 44, the highest ever number in any state assembly election for the 68-member House.

In his rallies in the state, Modi can often be heard praising Himachal’s culture and traditions apart from talking highly about Himachal’s traditional handicrafts. On Monday, Priyanka Gandhi did the same to strike a chord with the Himachalis. 

Countering the BJP's slogan, “Himachal Pradesh is known for its ancient customs practiced for several years and decades. Its fairs – Mandi Shivratri and Kullu Dussehra celebrated for weeks. Folk dances like Nati are the most loved tradition. Where is the need to change such good traditions?" Priyanka Gandhi asked.

“I don't agree with the call (of BJP) to change any custom," she added.

To emphasize her point about the need of changing the BJP government, Priyanka Gandhi also appealed to the sentiments of Mandi locals. She quoted an old anecdote from the pre-Independence era about Narottam Wazir in Mandi who used to collect a lot of taxes from the people. The people of Mandi were fed-up with him and got together, managing to replace Wazir from the post.

This also applies to 'Jairam Thakur Sarkar' as a section of the people - employees, women, youths, and farmers - are feeling let down by the government, she said.  Her poll rally held, a day before union home minister Amit Shah arriving on his two-day election tour, was especially planned for Mandi town.

Mandi is home district of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and second largest district in the state with 10 assembly constituencies.

For long Mandi had remained a stronghold of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who returned to the Parliament four times. The Congress gave ticket for bypoll to his wife Pratibha Singh—now also PCC president, after his demise in July 2021.

Her victory in the Mandi bypoll has encouraged Congress to carry this trend forward in the November 12 polls.

Priyanka Gandhi invoked the late Indira Gandhi and remembered her contribution to grant statehood to Himachal Pradesh on January 25, 1971.

“Some of your grandparents must have told you that it was snowing heavily in Shimla on that day. She (Indira Gandhi) braved the snow and stood with the people of the state in celebration. That was the kind of love and bond she had with Himachal Pradesh, "Priyanka Gandhi said. "She continued to sustain the state’s development as the state progressed under Congress Chief Ministers like Dr Y S Parmar and Virbhadra Singh."

Priyanka Gandhi further added, “When I go to a village in Himachal, the people there say that we saw your grandmother. Even after 40 years, there is respect and respect for her. The trust that she tried to build was never broken”.

But, after the departure of Indira ji, the politics of the country changed.

Money and selfishness dominate politics today. False promises are made. This was not there during Indira ji's time, Priyanka noted.

Never before in earlier state assembly elections, has the Congress tried to invoke Indira Gandhi’s contributions for poll wins. 

Knowing that Old Pension Scheme (OPS) has become a real potent weapon to hit the BJP poll prospects, Gandhi  declared “OPS will be restored on day one of the cabinet meeting of newly formed government “

Himachal Pradesh has more than 2.50 lakh government employees—almost every household having one member in the services. The employees have been on a warpath with the government. They held protests and dharnas.

“We have taken a decision to vote for the party which guarantees to implement OPS” a government employee leader admits.

The Congress has also announced to fill up 63,000 vacant posts in Himachal Pradesh government departments thus opening the scope for at least one lakh jobs every year, Priyanka Gandhi said amid promises of jobs to youths.

Staying at her house in Shimla, Priyanka Gandhi's next poll rally is on November 4 at Nagrota Bhagwan in Kangra, state's biggest district. With 15 assembly seats, Kangra is key to bringing any party to power.

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It's a hard reality that Himachal's road to Shimla (seat of power) passes via Kangra. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are slated to campaign in Kangra this week.

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