New leadership fails to emerge in Himachal Pradesh

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Struggling with the mounting burden of paying out hefty monthly salaries to a growing number of government employees Himachal Pradesh, the least urbanised state in the country, has failed to throw up a new leadership that is capable of standing up to the challenges that lie ahead.

The power pendulum regularly oscillates between Congress and BJP after every five years, and no matter how experienced the leadership of either party may be, neither a Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal led BJP government or a Mr Virbhadra Singh led Congress government has repeated a term.

The lethargic populace, swayed by the powerful government employee lobby, is content in believing change has come about when the given leader from one party changes position with his counterpart from the other party for the post of Chief Minister after every five years.

Himachal's 3 CMs, Ram Lal, YS Parmar & Virbhadra Singh in one frame dancing to a pahari naati

Himachal’s 3 Congress CMs – (from L to R) Mr Ram Lal, Mr YS Parmar & Mr Virbhadra Singh in one frame dancing to a Pahari Naati

Mr Virbhadra Singh first became chief minister in 1983, which he himself once confided in me that then he was selected as chief minister and not elected as one.

It was a diktat for Mrs Indira Gandhi that placed Mr Virbhadra Singh at the helm of affairs, something that he has nurtured so deeply that another all compassing leader in Congress has not emerged to challenge his authority or replace him in the party in over three decades.

Over this long span several senior bureaucrats confess that they joined up as IAS officers when Mr Virbhadra was the chief minister and are on the verge of retiring when Mr Virbhadra Singh is still the chief minister. They have hardly witnessed any radical change

The octogenarian leader recently brushed aside a media question by asserting, “politicians never retire.”

Challenges wore posed to Mr Virbhadra’s leadership by many leaders which included the deceased former chief minister Mr Ram Lal Thakur, former union minister Mr Sukh Ram, late Mr Sat Mahajan, senior congress leader Mrs Vidya Stokes, former union cabinet minister Mr Anand Sharma, minister Mr Kaul Singh Thakur and others, but none has succeeded.

For the BJP, a leadership change was witnessed at the turn of the century when upstart Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal with the backing of the then party general secretary Mr Narendra Modi successfully pulled of a coup of sorts by dethroning Mr Shanta Kumar’s decades old leadership in 1998.

Mr Shanta Kumar was the first non-congress Chief Minister of Himachal, coming to hold the chair in the 1977 Janta Party wave.

It was a turbulent time and the change was a messy affair that exploded at a party meet in Jwalamukhi, where fistcufs and abuses were exchanged between the two camps.

It is to the credit of Mr Dhumal that despite belonging to a district that only sends 5 legislators to the assembly, he has been able to maintain his hold over BJP even after having quelled an open rebellion from within the party ranks against his leadership at one point of time.

With all the anti-incumbency have piled up against Mr Virbhadra Singh and Mr Dhumal, still there is no visible challenge to their leadership, other than age that can be foreseen.

Given the history of the state, the power pendulum for the election due by 2017 end should be swinging into the BJP camp. It remains to be seen whether the party projects a new face for the upcoming electoral battle or falls back again on Mr Dhumal as its leader.

Congress appears to be resigned to its fate with an aging leader at the helm. Most are counting it to be Mr Virbhadra Singh’s last term in office, unless he springs a surprise again. But what is worse, the party has even failed to project an alternate leadership that could battle the resurgent BJP in the upcoming assembly elections.

Change comes slowly to Himachal. The states was politically integrated in 1966 attained statehood in 1971, but it did have elected chief minister earlier also.

Urbanisation crept into the hills under British rule. Shimla grew up from a village to the summer capital of a vast British empire in a century (1815 – 1915).

Even after 68 years of India having become independent, about 90 % of Himachal’s population is rural and since 1950, the state has had only 5 chief ministers in Dr YS Parmar, Mr Shanta Kumar, Mr Ram Lal Thakur, Mr Virbhadra Singh and Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal. Leadership change comes very slowly to Himachal.

Editor-Reporter with Hill Post, Ravinder Makhaik as a journalist has for over two decades worked for India’s leading newspapers and television networks.

5 Comments

  • Surekha D says:

    Makhaik sir, you have raised a vantage point in the political landscape of the state. Historically as you have also pointed out the it is the two parties which have been at helm of affairs, and within the parties it has been particular leadership who have been ruling the roost.
    The alternative has shown its dominant presence in the varsity, but has not been able to make a dent in the statewide political domain per se and a potential lies there with some young shots, but then the argument still remains how to break the hegemony of the personalities rather than parties in HP.

  • Nodnat says:

    That is BOLD Mr Editor.

    New leadership does not emerge because we do not have genuine democracy; the feeble efforts of Rahul Gandhi notwithstanding. Once a party gets or manages a majority, feudal tendencies and/or LOYALTY / nepotism only works. In that way ALL the CMs of HP are ‘anointed’ and therefore are preoccupied with holding on to their chair and uncertain tenures than doing what they ought to be doing. Their ‘VISION’ of course being restricted to making their son (wife?) the next CM. It is also for this reason that CM’s are mortally afraid of inducting any competent minister into the Cabinet which is more like a stable for unquestioning followers, unable to put forth an agenda in a Cabinet meeting unless approved by the Numero Uno. It is indeed therefore not surprising that a state like HP with only 6.8 million people in 2011, is not way ahead of other much bigger and poorer states? We actually should have been far ahead of many countries in SE Asia and elsewhere. Our great leaders and repeated CMs of course cannot answer such questions. It is for “us” to answer them! Despite the facade of being on ‘Twitter’ or ‘FB’, neither CMs nor Ministers actually engage with their constituents on social media in any meaningful way. It would be too much to expect that from out geriatric CMs.

    But fortunately, ours is the real Land of the Gods (or at least the valleys) and with several hundreds of them around, surely we have a bright future, no matter what Uttarakhand or Kerala claim!

  • Avnish Katoch says:

    NODNAT has already said what I wanted to say about feudal and dynastic approach of both Dhumal and Singh.Since last 3 years VB Singh is doing his very best to project his son as new leader and has effectively marginalized upcoming youth leaders within his own party (either they are given plum board positions or are totally sidelined).

    Stokes, Anand Sharma, Kaul Singh Thakur were never masses leaders so had no skill to match VB Singh. Bali is doing his very best and you may find him as head of Congress after Singh.

    On BJP side there is hardly any other face than Anurag. And with one stadium, Dhumal has swung his son to top national politics.

    Carefully crafting careers of their sons, they have destroyed future of a very very promising state.

  • Avay Shukla says:

    To put the issue in perspective, and to be fair to the likes of Messers Singh and Dhumal, dynastic politics is a plague that afflicts all states and parties in India. The reason is that politics in India is not driven by ideology but by individuals who then consider their parties as family business concerns. Once politics becomes a business, and the leader its brand equity ( eg: the Gandhis, Mulayam, Lalu, Mayawati, Karunanidhi, the Badals, Jayalalitha et all) then the rules of business take over. And the main rule, of course, is that a business must remain in the family. Add to this the murky source of funds, all of which is collared by the leader, and a gullible, uneducated electorate and the succession is assured. This is India’s new Zamindari system.
    In Himachal it would appear that the Dhumal family’s stars are on the ascendant. Not only has the present Congress govt. been totally ineffective but Mr. Anurag Thakur, thanks to his BCCI position, has now become a national figure and is well poised to succeed his father. The rival dynasty of Mr. Virbhadra Singh is on its way out- neither the wife nor the son have made much of an impression with the voter and the Income Tax/ Enforcement cases against them will make things more difficult for them in the years to come. There will be a vacuum in the Congress and the struggle between Msrs. Bali and Kaul Singh will mainly be one to determine who becomes the leader of the Opposition in the next govt.
    True leadership can never emerge is such a scenario, but then again oligarchies don’t throw up leaders, only bosses and Godfathers.

  • Amit Sharma says:

    Very True and written Shukla Sir. The gullible in rank and file of Congress toward VB son is till he is at the helm on another hand Mr. Dhumal has crafted his son political career on cricket ground and BCCI well, but have sideline promising young leader Mr. Parveen Sharma from Mandi.

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