Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Campaign Trail of Dr Onkar Shad, CPI (M) candidate in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh

Tikender Singh Panwar reports:

Dr Onkar Shad the CPIM candidate from Mandi parliamentary seat in Himachal Pradesh has become the first candidate in the state to reach the maximum number of electors in the constituency. According to the assessment made by two local dailies namely the Tribune and Hindustan Times he has been able to put a considerable impact on the electorate by directly meeting them which has forced the other contestants as well to change their tactics from just holding public rallies to real intervention. The campaign was started in the month of February. A large number of meetings were organized in the entire constituency which happens to be the largest in the state and covers almost half of the geographical area of Himachal Pradesh. Initially the issues raised pertained to demands of the people that include rights over forests, questions of rehabilitation and compensation in the project affected areas, saving the crops from wild animals , raising the support price of milk and other horticulture produce and so on. This helped in activating the party and other mass organizations leadership in the area . From March onwards the party campaign was unleashed with a target of at least a rally in each assembly segment of the parliament. There are 17 assemblies in Mandi parliamentary segment. Organizationally the constituency was divided into Mandi, Kullu, Sundernagar, Rampur zones. All these four zones were further divided into constituency wise responsibilities. From a meeting in the zones several meetings of constituencies were further fixed. Initially the candidate of the party traveled on foot for almost a fortnight in his native area where his team was able to cover almost 10 panchayats and the move was from village to village. This helped in enthusing party sympathizers which later helped in generating confidence amongst the common people of the area who took a position of supporting Onkar irrespective of their political affiliations. Similarly campaign was unleashed in other parts like Rampur, Kinnaur, Jogender nagar, Karsog, Kullu , Balh. The next target was to mobilize for the nomination . The nomination was done in Mandi on 20th April which was attended by A Vijayraghwan and Tapan Sen from center. A large number of people attended from different parts and largest from Anni which is the native assembly constituency of the candidate. The public meeting was addressed by A Vijayraghwan, Rakesh Singha , Dr Onkar and Tapan Sen. Taking a dig at the so called development in the state of which both the Congress and the BJP are claiming to be champions he said that this development is just an eye wash and is actually development of few individuals and companies and not of the common man. While describing the condition of the schools he said the situation is such that almost 20% of the schools are on the verge of closure in the state as the required number of teachers are not available.
The issues of the constituency and that of the state
The state of Himachal was carved out because of the aspirations of the people and was heavily dependent upon central assistance. Besides, the only wealth that the state used to get was from forests that was abruptly ended in 1980 after the forest conservation act. In lieu the state was accorded a special category status . This status helped the state to develop some infrastructure in the state, because of which schools and health infrastructure could be developed. The services sector was also developed with a strength of over 3 lakh employees in the state. But this special category status was snatched by the 9th finance commission. Then under the liberalization era the successive state governments of both the BJP and the Congress have blatantly and profusely bled the people of their savings and have sharply restricted the scope of investment in the social sector . Even before the FRBM was passed in the state which both the parties vehemently welcomed, a MOU was signed with the central government thereby applying the conditional ties of the FRBM through the backdoor. This is the major issue of the state.
Secondly the only other viable source for mobilization of resources is water ie the hydel projects in the state. The state has an immense potential of generating over 23000 MW electricity through the hydel projects.But due to the policies of crony capitalism and of hoodwinking the people by robbing them of their share and interests this issue has become the second major issue in the state. The land is being acquired in the interests of big business , be it for cement plants eg in Sundernagar , or Lafarge in Tatta pani or Jaypee in Bagha or acquisition of land for hydel generation in either the Satluj , Ravi or Beas basins. These projects are having multiple impacts on the common people and the state as a whole. Firstly the interest of the state in not being protected. The power companies producing electricity both in the private as well in the public sector have not been asked to give their due to the state. For example there is an utmost demand that the share of the state should be 15% distress cost and 30% equity in all the projects . But both the BJP and the Congress have failed to protect this and in projects like Parvati with a capacity of 2020 MW , the state has no share at all. Similarly in the private BOT (Built Operate and Transfer ) projects the state has no share. The second issue arising out of these projects is a contradiction emerging out of this development. Since the governments allowing these projects or signing these projects do not even have an iota of interest to protect the share or the interests of the common people, the affected inhabitants are the suffered most. For example in the ongoing Wangtoo karcham 1000 MW hydel project the people of the adjoining villages were opposing the project for the settlement of their demands like rehabilitation, compensation, pollution and most importantly employment. But the then Congress government instead of dealing with the agitation used force and fired at the meeting in which several were wounded. Now since the project is half way over, cracks have appeared in the house that are atop the hill underneath where the head race tunnel is being dug. Now the company is not even prepared to listen to the woes of the distressed people. Similar kinds of problems are faced all over the state. The third important issue pertains to the continuous increase in the cost of production of horticulture produce in the state. The entire hilly terrain is horticulture oriented that produces apples. Since last many years especially after the liberalization spree , the government has sharply reduced the subsidies provided for fungicides, insecticides and other medicines, also the cost of fertilizers has gone up substantially. Compounding this, there is not intervention in the market and the apple and potato producers are forced to sell their produce even at a loss to the Commission agents. Last year in Kalpa in Kinnaur district that produces one of the finest quality apples , the apple orchardists were not even able to pay back their loans taken from the Commission agents because of fall in the market . Another important issue pertains to the cuts in social expenditure especially on health and education. The condition of schools is such that a 10 class school in a majority of places is being run by either 3 or 4 teachers, out of whom 2 are regular employees and 2 on contract , here it is called under various name like PTA (parents teachers association), which is a new form of a user charge in education, Vidya Upasaks and so on. Similarly , the health is in shatters. The health centers have turned into money generating enterprises with user charges being levied on every step. Not just that here there is a very glaring example of PPP(Public private partnership). The state government has allowed to attach three district hospitals to any private medical college entrepreneur who opens in Mandi, hamirpur and Una. Thereby meaning that the private college would mint money from the students and the hospitals made out of public money would also be laid out for the private players.
Then there are several other demands like the proper implementation of the NREGA, the forest tribal act, employment to the local youth in the coming up projects in the state , demand for drinking water, schools, and so on.

Post Nomination period
Immediately after the nomination of the candidate, rallies were planned in all the constituencies. The biggest rally took place in Sainj where over 4000 workmen gathered on May day. This rally was addressed by Onkar Shad. The other important rally was in Anni on 7th May which was also well attended and the main speaker in the rally was A VijayRaghwan and Rakesh Singha. Besides public meetings were addressed by the candidate and other leaders of the party from the state and the center , the details are as:

23rd April Bharmour Onkar Shad
30th April Patlikuhl Onkar Shad
1st May Rampur Pushpender Garewal
4th May JogenderNagar Rakesh Singha
4th May Jarol (Sundernagar) Kashmir Singh Thakur
5th May Jhanjheli Onkar Shad, A Vijayraghwan
6th May Garagushaini(Mandi) Onkar, A Vijay Raghwan
7th May Anni A Vijayraghwan and Rakesh Singha
8th May Karsog Suneet Chopra and Kuldeep Singh
8th May Machial (JNR) Pushpende Garewal, Asha Lata& Kushal 8th May Nirmand Rakesh Singha & Onkar
9th May Rampur Suneet Chopra, Rakesh Singha& Onkar
11th May Manali Pushpender Garewal & Prem Gautam
11th May Nankhari Onkar

Besides , a road show was also organized in Kinnaur district which was led by Onkar Shad and Tikender Singh . This show started from Bara kamba then enroute Chaura, Nigulsaari, Kache, Thanang , Baro the last meeting was held at Ponda. Despite inclement weather and snow the people braved it and participated in large numbers.
On the last day of campaigning there were several meetings in Nankhari, Urni and Chagaon. On the 12th once again door to door campaign was unleashed where contacts were consolidated .

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