On a hazy afternoon, a group of curious school boys makes a brief halt at a poll rally of the ruling Congress in village Pandoga here as a local leader delivers a speech centred around the drug abuse issue. He attacks the BJP, accusing it of trying to defame Haroli constituency over abuse of “chitta” (drugs). He asks the people to counter the “BJP propaganda”, saying no girl will marry youths from the area as they will think that they are drug addicts. As the speeches continue, Industries Minister in the Virbhadra Singh government Mukesh Agnihotri, who is seeking re-election from the constituency bordering Punjab for the fourth time, remains busy meeting his supporters before the chief minister’s arrival at the venue to address the rally.
Agnihotri, who also holds the key portfolios of Information, Parliamentary Affairs and Labour, is up against BJP’s Prof Ram Kumar, a former college lecturer whom he defeated in the 2012 polls by a margin of over 4,500 votes. The drug abuse problem is being raked up by BJP in poll rallies in Haroli, which falls in Una district. The party candidate has even put up posters and banners at many places in the constituency seeking people’s support to make Haroli free from the menace of “drugs, mafia and goonda raj”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is scheduled to address a poll rally near here tomorrow to bolster party’s campaign for the November 9 election, had targeted the Congress government on drug, mining, tender, transfer and forest mafias allegedly thriving under the present regime. However, Agnihotri claims it is an non-existent issue “being created by the opposition”. “We are contesting on development and welfare agenda, but when the BJP realised they cannot counter us on this, they have started to create non-existent issues like drugs,” he told PTI.
Meanwhile, the school boys, who were keenly listening to the local Congress leader, get distracted when they see a box containing party’s campaign material like caps and scarves. They fetch a few caps from the cardboard box and move on. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh soon arrives to address the rally and is welcomed by Congress workers dancing to the beats of ‘dhol’. The veteran leader focuses his speech on development issue and the works undertaken by his government.
Hitting out at the BJP which has been targeting him over corruption charges, the 83-year-old leader dubs it as political vendetta and says, “I haunt the BJP leaders in their dreams”.”We will win with absolute majority,” he says amid applause from the crowd. Agnihotri, who won for the first time way back in 2003, talks about the development works undertaken in his constituency including opening of three degree colleges, two ITIs, setting up of two industrial areas, a Rs 922-crore Swan river channelisation project, medium irrigation scheme and upcoming food park.”They (BJP) cannot counter us on development agenda, which is why they are running a negative campaign. They are building their campaign on lies, but they cannot befool people who will bring back the Congress again,” he says.