Chandigarh: It is going to be an all-out battle between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on April 6 in Himachal Pradesh. After losing four by-polls – one Lok Sabha seat of Mandi, and three Assembly seats of Arki, Jubbal-Kotkhai, and Fatehpur in November 2021 – BJP hit rock bottom in the hill state.
With a resurgent AAP planning a roadshow in Mandi on April 6, the BJP woke up from stupor as it is also the party’s foundation day and its leaders want to make the most of it.
AAP had announced the roadshow in Mandi to make a dent in Himachal Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur’s bastion, the district from where the BJP had won nine out of 10 Assembly seats in the 2017 Himachal Assembly elections.
It was like staring BJP in the eye. Sensing the looming threat, BJP has now announced that on the same day (April 6), it will organise massive party foundation day celebrations across the state.
The BJP has given a target to its leaders of gathering 5,000 party activists in each of the 68 Assembly constituencies. The focus especially happens to be CM Jai Ram Thakur’s home district Mandi where Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann will make some major announcements.
Fearful Of AAP, BJP Wakes Up, Cong In Snooze
Just a month back, former BJP leader Gaurav Sharma quit the party and joined AAP. He is now the AAP spokesperson.
“Close to 500 to 700 activists from the BJP have joined AAP. But most new joinees are the ones who left the Congress and are part of the AAP core and cadre,” he said.
Gaurav was a councillor from Nabha ward of Shimla and had fought on the BJP ticket in 2007. He added, “BJP’s foundation day celebration is a strategy to sabotage Arvind Kejriwal’s roadshow. Otherwise, why did they not celebrate the foundation day with such enthusiasm all these years? What changed in 2022 that they suddenly realised that foundation day was important to the BJP?”
BJP leader Ganesh Dutt claimed that his party’s programmes are not in response to AAP’s moves. “BJP has nothing to do with AAP’s roadshow. Our party is the world’s largest party. Don’t compare an ant with an elephant,” he stated.
Apart from Gaurav Sharma, others to have joined AAP include Rakesh Chaudhary, a prominent OBC leader from Dharamshala, and former state youth Congress president Manish Thakur.
Chaudhary was with the BJP till 2019. After he was denied the ticket in the 2019 by-polls for the Dharamshala Assembly segment, he fought as an independent. Other leaders sitting on the fence are prominent BJP stalwarts like Maheshwar Singh and legislators Anil Sharma and Ramesh Dhawala, who are keeping their cards close to their chest.
This has the BJP worried as much as Congress. Like in other states, in Himachal too, the Congress is slow in reacting.But BJP has upped the ante by announcing that the party will celebrate its foundation day on the day AAP is holding the roadshow.
BJP To Mobilise Neutral Voters On Foundation Day Rather Than Cadres
A keen watcher of Himachal politics Professor Shashi Kant Sharma said, “AAP has already dented both the Congress and the BJP. The April 6 foundation day celebration is to ensure that the attention to the AAP roadshow gets divided in the media and in general.”
However, other political observers are of the view that the kind of announcements Kejriwal is likely to make will not be missed by anyone. People are already expecting announcements like the renewal of the Old Pension Scheme OPS, Rs 1,000 per woman, cheaper cement, etc. The strategy here seems to be that the BJP will try to ensure that the neutral voter is brought to their foundation day programmes, especially in Mandi district so that they miss the AAP roadshow.
“After all, having their own cadres on the foundation day is obviously a given. Why would the BJP want that? The effort would be to mobilise the neutral voters towards them,” averred Prof Sharma. While AAP is aggressively carrying out its membership drive to make inroads into the state, BJP is trying to safeguard its fort.