As the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gears up to fight its major election battle in 68 constituencies of Himachal Pradesh on Nov. 12, it will also seek to claim power over the hot seat of Palampur – which it has won just once in the past three decades.
Flanked by the mighty Dhauladhars, the hill station in the politically important Kangra district has remained a congressional stronghold since 1985, when it drafted senior party leader and famed tea grower Brij Bihari Lal Butail from the constituency. Palampur’s five-time MLA and former Vidhan Sabha Speaker continued his winning streak from 1993 to 2017, when he finally retired. The streak was broken only once in 2007 when BJP’s Praveen Kumar was victorious. In the previous elections in 2017, Butail’s son, Ashish Butail, contested his first election and the family again won the people’s mandate.
A battle for the inheritance
However, this time Palampur will witness a triangle match with Congress MLA Ashish Butail, BJP candidate Trilok Kapoor and Sanjay Bhardwaj of the newcomer Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Over the past week, several national leaders have landed in the hill town to win voters’ approval.
Ashish Butail is confident he will repeat the result of 2017 when he defeated BJP’s Indu Goswami by 4,324 votes. He is also supported by the party’s recent success in the Municipal Corporation (MC) polls, when Congress won 11 out of 15 seats. Another boost came from Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s meeting in neighboring Nagrota Bagwan constituency, followed by a visit by the party’s Rajasthan MLA Sachin Pilot.
While Congress counts on the people’s continued trust in the Butail family, the local BJP unit is relying on the legacy of its senior leaders, including the former Prime Minister of Himachal, Shanta Kumar, who was Palampur MLA in 1990.
The party has appointed its secretary of state and chairman of the state wool federation, Trilok Kapoor, who is fighting its first parliamentary elections with the promise of tackling local issues – upgrading to municipal business, employment and boosting local tourism. “Previously, the local unit was somewhat segmented. But we saw in 2007 that every time the party has fought the elections in unity, it has won. Also before that, former CM Shanta Kumar (ji) and Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar (ji) have remained MLAs from here,” Kapoor said on the sidelines of a rally. “This time we fight as one unit and we will emerge victorious. “
Palampur is critical for everyone, as one of the 15 seats in Kangra – one of the largest districts said to lead the way for any party to form its next government in the state. From Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, the BJP is doing everything it can to win the voters’ trust. In fact, Shah ended the state poll campaign with a public rally in Palampur on Wednesday.
AAP, which has otherwise lost steam in the state, has excited its local campaign, with a roadshow by Delhi’s deputy prime minister Manish Sisodia a few days before the polls. The party urges voters to give it one chance to rule the state, citing the example of neighboring Punjab.
Returning Tourists to Palampur
One of the many issues dominating the polls in this quaint town best known for its sprawling tea gardens is tourism. The candidates have promised to bring tourists back to the hill station and increase employment opportunities for local youth. “Tourists only come to visit Dharamshala and McLeodganj and return from there. We want to invite them to Palampur and give them a glimpse of the majestic Dhauladhars,” BJP candidate Kapoor told voters at a public rally in Banuri village.
One of the major projects used to lure voters is the 13.5km cable car linking Palampur to the Chunja Glacier on the mighty Dhauladhars. Allegedly the dream project of former Himachal Pradesh CM Shanta Kumar, it has been on fire since its announcement in 1990, due to environmental evictions, as the area has large reserved forests.
Last year, however, union minister Nitin Gadkari set the ball rolling on the Rs 650-crore project through the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). The plan is to build a 13.5 km cable car between Palampur, Thathri and Chuna Glacier on the Dhauladhars at an elevation of about 12,000 ft above sea level.
Himachal will vote on November 12 and the results would be announced on December 8.
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