Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary Jagat Prakash Nadda and secretary Shyam Jaju, who is also in charge of party affairs in Himachal Pradesh, have maintained that the party is solidly behind Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal on the issue of the Annandale ground. They said the ground was the property of the State and should be handed over to the government, since its lease with the Army had expired.
“It was not only the BJP but also the successive Congress governments who had raised the issue with the Centre and the Ministry of Defence, and, at one point of time, the then Defence Minister, K.C. Pant, had even agreed to hand over the land to the State,” claimed Mr. Nadda.
He said the State government allowed the use of the vast ground by the Army for an emergency, and was even willing to give it additional sites and facilities in times of crisis.
The party leaders categorically said the BJP did not want the issue to go on and on, and requested all groups and organisations to stop taking advantage, or making it a security-versus-cricket issue.
Later talking to The Hindu, Mr. Dhumal said the government never patronised the Himachal Cricket Association led by his son. The move was initiated by the Indian Olympic Association for making a multipurpose sports arena on the Annandale ground, since it was the only open space available for children. Thousands of children have signed the “Save Annandale” campaign, he said.
The Chief Minister, who was annoyed with a defamatory press release issued by a PRO of the Army, said he had a meeting with the Defence Minister and the Army Chief, and they had ordered an enquiry into the lapse on the part of some junior officials.
Party insiders from Delhi, who were here to take account of the situation after the recent Army-government spat on the Annandale issue, said they had come to chalk out the strategy for the party's “mission repeat,” and were quite hopeful of achieving it. The young MLA and new party president Satpal Satti, a former Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader, was getting tremendous response from the people on his endeavour to return the BJP to power in the hill State, they said.
Asked why senior leaders Shanta Kumar and Kalraj Mishra were not attending the all-important State Executive meeting, they merely said they were busy somewhere else. But the party is leaving no stone unturned to curb any further dissidence in the party, they added.