BJP Himachal in-charge and senior party leader, Avinash Rai Khanna says there is no anti-incumbency against the state government.


NEW DELHI: BJP Himachal in-charge and senior party leader Avinash Rai Khanna, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian, said that the people of Himachal Pradesh have voted to change the decades-old trend of replacing the government after every five years. Khanna believes that BJP will come back to power.
On the question of who will be the CM if the party wins, he said that the call will be made by the central leadership. He spoke on the rebel crisis and the reports of internal conflicts between the central and state leaderships. Edited excerpts:
Q: It is being alleged that tickets were denied to BJP leaders not because of any genuine surveys, but due to interference from top state leaders who are now at the Centre.
A: It did not happen this way. Please understand we contested the elections in order to form the government, so why would we deny tickets to winning candidates or use a false excuse to deny tickets to anyone? Our main survey pool is the party workers and all tickets were denied on the basis of what we were told by the workers. All these feedback was taken in writing—that is the level of detailed effort that we have put in Himachal.
Q: There are talks that there was internal rivalry between two central leaders and Union ministers that has likely impacted the party’s performance. There was groupism at play?
A: As an in-charge of the state, I can tell you that from senior leaders to booth workers, everyone has worked together for the party’s cause. Leaders have gone from one place to another as per the worker’s demand. Ticket distribution was done through consensus.
Q: In many states, sitting BJP CMs have been changed before the election or even after the party has won under the said CM. Will that happen in the state if the BJP wins on 8 December?
A: These decisions are taken by the central leadership. We have contested the election under the state leadership of Jairam Thakur. Our main objective is to form the government.
Q: The party faced multiple issues following the distribution of the tickets? How much of that made an impact?
A: As far as the question of rebels is concerned, it was something that was blown out of proportion by the media. I consider someone as a rebel if he or she is able to take away party workers with him after resigning from the party. None of the leaders who left the party and contested the elections after being denied a ticket, were able to wean away any worker. Then how can he be a rebel? They were alone.
Q: You are saying their departure is not going to damage the party, despite many of them being senior leaders, with one of them even being unsuccessfully persuaded by PM Modi to not contest as an independent.
A: Once the result is declared, you will believe what I am saying. The base of any leader is associated with the party he is in. If no party workers resigned along with him (Kirpal Parmar) then what does it signify? People as senior as Prem Kumar Dhumal did four rallies every-day. Shanta Kumarji attended so many rallies. So will the effort of these leaders make more impact or the resigning of few leaders will?
Q: So why did this situation arise? Why didn’t you or any other state leader handle it by talking to those who were upset?
A: I myself spoke to the leaders, went to their house. All other leaders went and met them, but they had decided they wanted to contest the elections, what can one do beyond a point. The fact that Modiji called him up shows how the BJP as a party was serious about this election.
Q: You believe that the Congress’ campaign did not take off. Why?
A: Congress was only seeking votes by stating that in Himachal, there is a change of government every five years and hence now it will be our turn to come to power. They had nothing else. We have, I believe, weakened this perception through our campaigning. Congress had no issue on which to seek vote for, their central leadership too gave this election a miss and the campaign was handled by leaders at their individual level. The Congress has no national or local face to lead the campaign. They only kept saying that BJP will lose as it is the incumbent government.
Q: Historical data suggests what Congress is saying is not incorrect.
A: Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Shah, Party president J.P. Nadda, UP Chief Minister Adityanath and other central leaders contributed to the campaign as much as they could. It was visible in the rally that there was a direct contact between the leaders and the voters, all these people had come to these rallies on their own and were not someone who were brought. Each slogan was responded to enthusiastically by the voters. I covered the entire state though roads, did multiple rallies, and interacted with almost every worker. There was no anti-incumbency against the government I can assure you. Anti-incumbency was there in certain pockets, districts, against individuals which we acknowledged and handled by dropping the MLAs and changing the seats of the MLAs. Eleven sitting MLAs were denied tickets, seats of two ministers were changed, one of them was even denied a ticket.
A panna pramukh was given responsibility to reach out to 30 voters, we have contested the election with minute precision. All these panna pramukhs were trained meticulously. After the date of the withdrawal of nomination, we did political rallies in all 68 Assembly seats, in which 800-2000 people came in each of them, which is considered to be a very good number in the context of Himachal Pradesh. Then we did a door-to-door campaign and I saw people taking the voting slip distributed by us to their forehead because of the goodwill they had for Modi and BJP.
The challenge was to tackle the perception that Himachal will vote for Congress, as has been the trend here since 1985 with no government being repeated. I am a trained lawyer and I believe in the simple fact that presumption and perception cannot replace the truth. We have given proof that we have worked and on that basis we have sought votes, Congress was seeking votes on assumptions.
Q: Why do you believe the voters have chosen you?
A: We have sought votes on the basis of work and performance. We are winning with a comfortable majority, this is my strong belief. There are two-three reasons behind any electoral wins—the work done by the organization and the work done by the government. The government in Himachal Pradesh did an excellent job in the past five years and our organization was present and active till the booth level. Every single person of Himachal is a beneficiary (labharthi) of either the state or the central scheme. During Covid times, everyone got three shots of vaccines, Himachal was the first state that achieved complete vaccination and with a zero percent wastage of the precious vaccine and that is a testament of the benefits of the “Double-engine” government.
What our government did in the state was that if some segment groups were for different reasons not covered under the central scheme, then the state government brought its own state level scheme to augment the central scheme and ensured that no one was left out. Ayushman Bharat was added with Himachal Health Care Scheme (HIMCARE). Ujwala Yojana was executed along with the Grihini Suvidha Yojana. Himachal is now a “smoke-less’ state.
We did a lot of work as far as increasing the road length is concerned as now many parts which were not connected by asphalt road now have pucca roads.
Our manifesto focused on women empowerment. Of the four recently launched Vande Mataram trains, one is now servicing the people of Himachal, one of the three “bulk drug” parks has been opened in Himachal. AIIMS, IIIT, Central university, medical colleges in every district—all these projects come with multiple social benefits for the locals and improve overall governance in the state.
More than 50,000 direct jobs and 1 lakh indirect jobs have been created due to the various projects that we have executed in the state. We gave Rs 1,500 as pension to people who were above 60 years, Congress had kept it for those who were 80 years and beyond. Another important factor is that there were no allegations of any scam or corruption against our government.
Women voters, who were the direct beneficiaries of most of our schemes, have outnumbered men in this election as far as voting is concerned and I see this as a positive sign for us.