The hills of Himachal Pradesh have warmed up to assembly election fever. Ahead of the house's tenure ending in December, a faction of the ruling BJP has raised its voice against the "rampant corruption" in the state and resigned from the party.
Maheshwar Singh, four-time former MP and two-time state party chief, along with former speaker of the state assembly Radha Raman Shastri and two former ministers Shyama Sharma and Mohinder Sofat last week announced their resignation from the party.
The dissidents Feb 3 announced the formation of the Himachal Lokhit Party, a new political outfit, under the leadership of Maheshwar Singh and announced that it would contest the assembly elections.
"Top political functionaries, including (Chief Minister Prem Kumar) Dhumal and his MP son Anurag Thakur, are neck-deep in corruption. They are involved in illegal property transactions and promotion of realtors. The entire state is up for sale," Singh told IANS.
He said even the party high command has become a party to the corrupt deals of Dhumal and his cabinet colleagues, including Health Minister Rajeev Bindal.
"We have apprised the party high command, including BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, of their misdeeds a number of times in the past three months. He (Gadkari) asked for proof of the allegations. We provided him all the evidence. But he deliberately adopted delayed tactics. Finally, we have decided to say 'jay siya Ram' (goodbye) to the party," Singh said, adding: "Now, we will fight it out politically during the elections."
The rebels, on the day of the floating of the new party, said in a statement that the BJP and the Congress, the state's two main political parties, are resorting to "political match-fixing" to rule the state in turns, leaving the people reeling under one corrupt regime after another.
"The induction of Babu Lal Kushwaha (of Uttar Pradesh) into the party indicates that the party has strayed from its ideology and principles. It has embraced corporate culture, especially since Gadkari took over the reins," the statement said.
Reacting to the political developments, Dhumal said the decision of party leaders to form a new outfit "is unfortunate".
"It would hurt the party. The body suffers if any of the limbs are lost," he said.
On chances of bringing the leaders back to the party, Dhumal said: "The ball is in the court of the party high command."
Political observers said the state government is already under fire by the opposition Congress for alleged corruption.
They said the high command should have taken cognizance when allegations were raised against Dhumal and Gadkari should have taken damage-control measures.
The rebels, who were sulking for being sidelined by the party, had signalled bickering within the party by floating the Himachal Bharashtachar Mukti Morcha (Himachal anti-corruption front) in Nov last year. But at that time, they preferred not to attack the state government and the party directly.
Even the ruling BJP's own MP Rajan Sushant put the government in the dock by levelling allegations of corruption, especially about shady land deals.
For quite some time, Sushant was openly criticising Dhumal. He was axed from the party's state executive body in May last year for demanding a "narco-analysis" test of Dhumal and his cabinet ministers over corruption.
Leader of Opposition Vidya Stokes told IANS: "From the first day, we have been saying the BJP government is involved in corruption. Now, its leaders are saying the same thing."
Dhumal, who took over reins of the state for the second time Dec 30, 2007, said his government was among the few states that reacted quickly after the national outcry against corruption.
"We now have laws in place to nail corrupt officials and make them accountable through timely delivery of services to the public," he said.
Despite allegations, a confident Dhumal said his biggest achievement over the past four years was winning the trust of the "aam aadmi" or the common man.