Falling market prices of apple, demand for a medical college, and support to tourism have emerged as key election issues in the Kullu region which sends four legislators to the 68-member Himachal Pradesh assembly. Horticulturists say rising input costs due to higher prices of fertiliser, pesticides and reduced government support have made apple farming a loss-making venture.
The Kullu region, the economy of which is dependent on tourism and horticulture, has four assembly seats of Manali, Kullu Sadar, Banjar and Anni. “Apple growers are unhappy here as rates have fallen to the level of 2012 and 2013. Adani Ambanis are also manipulating the rates. This issue is going to impact elections in all the four seats in this apple belt,” Naresh Chaudhary, an apple grower in Manali, said.
Apple growers here are also not happy with the ruling BJP over the hike in GST on the packaging and other input materials. “Carton rates were increased just ahead of the apple marketing season which hit our income,” Chaudhary said. Another apple grower Durga Singh from Kullu said the ruling government had promised to open cold storage facilities in this region but did not fulfil it. “I think issues over apple rates and falling income and GST on packaging material will impact the prospects of the BJP in the four seats here,” Singh said.
The demand for a medical college and upgradation of health facilities at the local hospital have also emerged as key election issues in the region. The economy of the Kullu region is mainly dependent on tourism and horticulture. Sameer Singh, a local businessman, said that the local hospital at Kullu serves nearly 10 constituencies but there is lack of health facilities and expert doctors here. “People here protested for 45 days this year for better facilities but the demands have not been met even as there are three MLAs from the BJP including a state minister,” Singh said.
The BJP’s promise to provide better compensation for the land acquired for Manali-Mandi highway has not been fulfilled which has angered voters here, a local said on the condition of anonymity. Tourism-related facilities have not been developed in the region which is known for the famous tourist spots of Manali and Rohtang, a hotelier said. “Hoteliers are also upset over the neglect of the industry by the state government during the Covid period. No financial help was given to the hospitality industry during the pandemic. Certainly, we will not vote for the ruling party,” says Sanjeev Gandhi, who is the state coordinator of fora of hotel and restaurants associations in Himachal Pradesh.
Sanjana Gupta, a private teacher at a local school, is annoyed at the government for not filling vacancies in government schools. “I am 42. I had been waiting for the recruitment for various posts by the government for the last five years. There are many like me who are waiting for government recruitment,” Gupta said. While Gupta is displeased with the ruling state government, she says, “I like (Prime Minister) Modiji. Why can’t we have leaders like him in the state?” No one is thinking about private workers while parties are promising pensions and perks to government employees, Manjul Rana, a marketing executive of a private company in the area, said.
The BJP is facing an uphill task in all four seats due to dissidents. For Manali seat, the party has nominated MLA Govind Singh Thakur while Congress has given the ticket to Bhuvneshwar Gaur, son of former minister Rajkrishan Gaur. BJP rebel Mahender Singh Thakur, who has the support of Four-lane Sangharsh Samiti, a group of locals fighting for better land compensation, is also in the fray as an independent candidate.
The BJP is facing the heat from dissident Ram Singh in Kullu Sadar seat where the ticket has been given to Narottam Singh Thakur. The saffron party had announced senior BJP leader Maheshwar Singh as its candidate but dropped him on the last day of the nomination as his son decided to fight polls as independent from the Banjar seat. Congress has nominated sitting MLA Surendar Singh Thakur from Kullu Sadar.
The BJP has fielded sitting MLA Surender Shourie from Banjar despite the opposition from party leaders. Besides BJP rebel Hiteshwar Singh, Shourie is facing a challenge from Congress nominee Khimi Ram Sharma who joined the party recently. Khimi Ram Sharma was the former BJP state president and minister.
Congress and the BJP both facing challenges from dissidents in the fourth seat of Anni. The BJP dropped its two-time MLA Kishori Lal and nominated Lokender Kumar, who fought the 2017 polls as a CPI candidate for the seat. Congress has given the ticket to Bansi Lal for the first time while dropping its 2017 candidate Paras Ram. Both Paras Ram and Kishori Lal are fighting polls as independent candidates, making the contest a hotspot. Overall, Congress has succeeded in quelling the rebellion, strengthening its chances amid the anti-government wave.