BJP pins hopes on a divided Cong. in Himachal

NEW DELHI JAN. 3. The Bharatiya Janata Party is depending on uniting its own divided house in Himachal Pradesh and on the continuation of intense factionalism in the Congress to win the Assembly elections due in February end.

Preparations have begun in right earnest, and recently the BJP general secretary, Arun Jaitley, was in the State to study the political geography.

Confident that the party leadership will be able to get the Union Minister and former Chief Minister, Shanta Kumar, to cooperate with the Chief Minister, P.K. Dhumal, the view is that the BJP could win, especially because the ``caste factor'' would work to its advantage. Apparently, the `Thakurs' constitute 24 per cent of the population and `Brahmins' 18 per cent. Mr. Dhumal is a `Thakur' and Mr. Kumar a `Brahmin'. With the support of these two castes, the BJP is hoping to pull it off, despite an admitted `anti-incumbency' factor.

On the other side of the political fence, the Congress has not been able to resolve the serious differences on the State leadership issue. The former Chief Minister, Vir Bhadra Singh, and the State unit president, Vidya Stokes, are pitted against each other. ``Wherever tickets are given by the Congress to those loyal to Ms. Stokes, Mr. Singh is certain to put up rival candidates as a `B' team,'' a senior BJP leader said.

The BJP claims a good development record for Mr. Dhumal's Government, and the good prices for apple growers has meant that there would be less discontent in the upper regions of the State which is the apple-growing area and where the Congress has had a better hold than the BJP.

In the last Assembly election, the BJP formed the Government despite garnering fewer votes than the Congress. The BJP won 39 per cent of the votes polled whereas the Congress got 43 per cent. The BJP formed the Government with the help of the Himachal Vikas Party of the former Cabinet Minister, Sukh Ram.

At present, the Himachal BJP leaders are not in the mood to take Sukh Ram on board, but as elections draw nearer the central party leadership will make an assessment of the situation and then decide. The BJP may not like to push Sukh Ram back to the Congress fold from where he came.

Party leaders here also feel that by and large Mr. Dhumal has not angered or annoyed any section of the population and there has been visible development in the State with generous funds from the Centre. The party is also boasting that future plans for generating 8000 MW of power could change the face of the hill State as this would give it an annual royalty of Rs. 2,000 crores. So far, Himachal has depended on apples and other fruit and tourism as sources of income.

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