With generational shift, Himachal sees end to cap politics

With a generational shift in the state leadership by the BJP, decades of politics over donning headgear that reflects the ideology and loyalties — from politicians to sarkari babus (from top to bottom) — has literally been given a farewell.

BJP’s Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, the youngest politician to be at the helm, is the first who does not indulge in cap politics in his almost five-year stint. He prefers to remain bareheaded.

Five-time legislator Thakur, who rose through the ranks and is known for his humble, clean and low-profile nature, is the 14th Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh.

Soon after taking the helm on December 24, 2017, Thakur, who advocates the need to brand state handicrafts and products like the woollen Himachali cap and shawls, said the “time has come to bid farewell to cap politics in the state”.

For him, flaunting political loyalty on the head reflect a symbol of political divisions between the BJP and the Congress and areas too — old and new Himachal.

How does the cap reflect one’s ideology? If your cap is maroon in front, then you must be a BJP supporter. And if it’s green, then you are with the Congress.

The round Bushehri cap — named after an erstwhile princely state in the state — has a green front flap.

The concepts of “green” and “maroon” stem from upper and lower areas of the state. The green symbolises descendants of upper Himachal, while the maroon one represents lower Himachal.

It started with the late six-time Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. He loved to don a green flap headgear, even during the summer. His supporters too prefer to wear this colour of cap to express their political solidarity with him.

Likewise, BJP leader and two-time Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has made the maroon flap his trademark in both stints. He is now virtually in political exile after his defeat in the previous Assembly polls.

“Normally the Chief Minister does not prefer to wear any cap. He believes the cap is not only just a headgear but a symbol of pride and holds a special place in people’s hearts. It should not be a symbol of regional divide,” a close aide of Thakur told IANS on Monday.

“Whenever he gets an opportunity, especially at public functions, he loves to don a green flap cap as he believes green reflects the state’s pristine natural beauty,” he adds.

While inaugurating and laying the foundation stone of 23 developmental projects costing about Rs 62 crore in the Kinnaur Assembly constituency on Sunday, Chief Minister Thakur was seen donning a green cap.

Later addressing a function organised by officers and employees of Seraj, his home constituency, at Thunag in Mandi district, the Chief Minister was seen donning the green cap.

Presenting a shawl and a Himachali cap is a common practice at official and public functions.

As the hill state is heading for an election to the 68-member Himachal Pradesh Assembly likely slated in November, the BJP is garnering support on the social media through photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi wearing the traditional Himachali multi-coloured ‘topi’.

On earlier occasions, cap politics often ignited anger and annoyance.

At a function in the state capital in 2017, well ahead of the Assembly polls on November 9, state Health Minister Kaul Singh had welcomed Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh by offering a Himachali maroon flap cap and a shawl. At that function Union Minister J.P. Nadda was also present.

Seeing the BJP’s trademark colour, the infuriated Chief Minister removed it immediately and wore his own green flap cap that he was holding.

Contrary to this, Modi, at an another function in 2017, didn’t lose his patience when he was offered a Congress ‘ideology’ cap by Virbhadra Singh at the foundation laying ceremony of a Rs 1,350 crore 750-bed AIIMS hospital in Bilaspur town.

From the colour of passion maroon to the shade of envy green, Modi immediately changed the colour of his cap while addressing a public meeting just after the official function.

In 2009, a BJP legislator had sold his collection of caps to raise funds for charity.

Tejwant Negi, a legislator from tribal Kinnaur district, had sold more than 600 Himachal caps at various auctions organised in his constituency and generated Rs 81,000 from its sale. The amount collected was given to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.

With the end of ‘topi’ politics largely, the political ideology of caps is not changing moods at all in these Assembly polls, a political observer told IANS.

The voters will decide which a “riot of colour” — green, maroon or multicoloured — will flutter again in the secretariat.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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