Falling apple market prices, demand for a medical college and support for tourism have emerged as key election issues in the Kullu region, which sends four lawmakers to the 68-member Himachal Pradesh assembly.
According to horticulturists, apple farming has become a loss-making business due to rising production costs due to higher prices for fertilizers, pesticides and reduced government support.
The Kullu region, whose economy depends on tourism and horticulture, has four assembly seats of Manali, Kullu Sadar, Banjar and Anni.
“Apple growers are unhappy here, as the rates have fallen to the levels of 2012 and 2013. Adani Ambanis is also manipulating the rates. This issue will affect the elections in all four seats in this apple belt,” said Naresh Chaudhary, an apple grower. in Manali.
Apple growers here are also not happy with the BJP’s ruling on raising the GST on packaging and other input materials.
“Carton rates were increased just before the apple marketing season, which hit our income,” Chaudhary said.
Another apple grower, Durga Singh from Kullu, said the ruling government had promised to open cold stores in the region, but has failed to deliver. “I think issues about apple rates and falling revenues and VAT on packaging materials will affect the prospects of the BJP in the four seats here,” Singh said.
Demand for a medical college and improvement of health facilities at the local hospital have also emerged as key electoral issues in the region. The economy of the Kullu region mainly depends on tourism and horticulture.
Sameer Singh, a local businessman, said the local hospital in Kullu serves nearly 10 constituencies, but there is a lack of health facilities and skilled doctors here.
“People here have protested for 45 days this year for better facilities, but demands have not been met, even though there are three MLAs from the BJP, including a state minister,” Singh said.
The BJP’s promise to provide better compensation for the land acquired for the Manali-Mandi highway has not been fulfilled, which has angered voters here, a local resident said on condition of anonymity.
No tourist facilities have been developed in the region known for the famous tourist spots of Manali and Rohtang, a hotelier said.
“Hoteliers are also angry at the state government’s neglect of the industry during the Covid period. No financial support was given to the hospitality industry during the pandemic. We will certainly not vote for the ruling party,” said Sanjeev Gandhi, the state coordinator of hotel and restaurant association forums in Himachal Pradesh.
Sanjana Gupta, a private tutor at a local school, is annoyed by the government for not filling vacancies in government schools.
“I’m 42. I’ve been waiting for the government recruitment for various positions for five years. There are many like me who are waiting to be recruited by the government,” Gupta said.
While Gupta is dissatisfied with the ruling state government, she says, “I like (Prime Minister) Modiji. Why can’t we have leaders like him in the state?” No one thinks about private employees as parties promise pensions and perks to government employees, said Manjul Rana, a marketing director for a private company in the area.
The BJP faces an uphill task in all four seats due to dissidents. For Manali seat, the party has nominated MLA Govind Singh Thakur, while Congress has given the ticket to Bhuvneshwar Gaur, son of former minister Rajkrishan Gaur.
BJP rebel Mahender Singh Thakur, who has the support of Four-lane Sangharsh Samiti, a group of locals fighting for better land compensation, is also running as an independent candidate.
The BJP faces the heat of dissident Ram Singh in Kullu Sadar seat where the ticket has been given to Narottam Singh Thakur.
The saffron party had announced senior BJP leader Maheshwar Singh as a candidate but dropped him on the final day of the nomination when his son decided to fight the polls independently of the Banjar seat. Congress has nominated incumbent MLA Surendar Singh Thakur from Kullu Sadar.
The BJP has raised incumbent MLA Surender Shourie from Banjar, despite opposition from party leaders. Alongside BJP rebel Hiteshwar Singh, Shourie faces a challenge from congressional candidate Khimi Ram Sharma, who recently joined the party. Khimi Ram Sharma was the former state president and minister of the BJP.
Congress and the BJP are both facing challenges from dissidents in Anni’s fourth seat. The BJP dropped its two-time MLA Kishori Lal and nominated Lokender Kumar, who fought in the 2017 polls as a CPI candidate for the seat.
Congress first gave the ticket to Bansi Lal while dropping its 2017 candidate Paras Ram. Both Paras Ram and Kishori Lal compete as independent candidates against polls, making the contest a hot spot.
Overall, Congress has managed to quell the insurgency and increase its chances amid the anti-government wave.
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