PALAMPUR: The election campaign by all three political parties have geared up in this region and it is expected that this time the regional factor may not play a predominant role in the coming loksabha poll in the merged areas of the Himachal Pradesh particularly in Kangra, which has over the years divided the hill state into â€œold and newâ€ areas. In the subsequent Parliament elections it seems that voters can no more be befooled on this issue by the political parties.
In the changed political scenario, there is no issue of â€œoldâ€ versus â€œnewâ€. Moreover, Prem Kumar Dhumal, Chief Minister, has been conscious of this fact, has taken pains to woo the people of the old areas by giving a fair deal to the apple growers and taking up development works like construction of roads etc .
The regional factor emerged here after the hilly areas of Punjab comprising Kangra, Una, Hamirpur districts were merged into the state during the reorganisation of states in 1966. As the Congress leaders from old Himachal continued to dominate the ruling Congress. In a bid to upstage the established leadership of the party, dissidence cropped up in the congress and leaders of the new areas Like Dr. Salig Ram, Kunj Behari Lal Butial and Pt Amar Nath Shamra raised the issue of discrimination on regional considerations.
The BJP, the then Jan Sangh, which had a significant presence exploited the regional sentiment to expand its base. As the influence of the BJP largely remained confined to the new areas with the Congress maintaining its hold over the old areas, the people were emotionally divided on regional lines.
Non-Congress Chief Ministers Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal have so far come from the merged areas. As the regional divide widened the BJP earned the â€œanti-apple growersâ€ tag and the Congress came to be largely seen as anti-merged areas.
Virbhadra Singh, who had a long stint as the Chief Minister, tried to win over the people of lower hills by taking steps like the â€œwinter moveâ€ , holding assembly session at Dharmshala, setting up of Vidhan Sabha Bhavan at Dharmshala and opening a medical college at Tanda.
Dhumal during his term in 1998 to 2003, tried to dispel the impression that the BJP was anti-apple growers by increasing the support price for apple twice and taking various other measures to improve the economy of fruit growers. The BJP has been claiming that it has demolished the walls of regionalism by ensuring equitable development of all areas. The outcome of the coming poll will indicate whether the claim was true or far- fetched.