New Delhi: The near-constant credits war between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took a fresh turn Friday, with newly-elected Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu announcing that an old plaque bearing the name of former Congress president Sonia Gandhi will be restored near the Atal Tunnel. The tunnel which connects Manali in Himachal with Leh in the Union Territory of Ladakh is certified as the world’s longest highway tunnel above 10,000 feet.
Sukhu said that while the tunnel, named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will not be renamed, the names of those who had laid the foundation stone for it will be restored.
Sharing an image of the tunnel on the microblogging site Twitter, Sukhu wrote, “Neither will Atal Tunnel be renamed, nor would the plaque change. However, a plaque for those who laid the foundation of Rohtang tunnel will definitely be added.”
न अटल टनल का नाम बदलेगा न पट्टिका हटेगी, लेकिन रोहतांग टनल का शिलान्यास करवाने वालों की पट्टिका भी जरूर लगेगी । pic.twitter.com/ixXK8jmuHq
— Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu (@SukhuSukhvinder) December 16, 2022
While Sukhu’s announcement came Friday, the decision to restore the plaque with Gandhi’s name was reportedly taken on 13 December, days after the Congress won the assembly elections in Himachal with a clear majority, replacing the then incumbent BJP government in the state.
While BJP state spokesperson Randhir Sharma had earlier in the week warned of protests if existing plaque bearing Vajpayee’s name was removed and claimed, “Sonia Gandhi had only performed the ‘bhumi pujan’, while the entire work was undertaken by Vajpayee and the Union government”, since the tunnel’s name has not been changed, it has said it is ‘okay’ with the restoration of the plaque bearing Gandhi’s name.
“We had warned them of protests if the name of late Shri Atal Bihar Vajpayee was removed. The tunnel was his idea. We will not tolerate any changes to the name of this tunnel. As far as I know, the party is putting the foundation stone back. We do not have a problem with it as long as the tunnel’s name remains Atal,” Rakesh Jamwal, general secretary of the Himachal Pradesh unit of the BJP told ThePrint Saturday.
Credits war between the two parties is not new and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has on several occasions spoken of how the UPA government left projects incomplete during its tenure. He has also emphasised that many delayed infrastructure projects have been taken up, fast-tracked, and completed since the BJP has been in power at the Union in 2014.
Also read: Pending under UPA, speeding under NDA — 10 big-ticket infra projects that picked up after 2014
Tussle over Atal tunnel
The foundation stone of the Atal Tunnel was laid in 2010 by former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, along with then steel minister in the UPA government, Virbhadra Singh and then Himachal CM Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The tunnel’s construction had been approved by Vajpayee in 2000, it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October 2020.
While Gandhi was not formally a part of the government at the time the foundation stone for the tunnel was laid, she was then heading the National Advisory Council, created under the UPA, to advise then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on policy formulation and monitoring of government programmes. This reportedly gave Gandhi a rank and status of a cabinet minister, which is believed to led to her name being inscribed on the tunnel plaque.
The plaque bearing the names of Gandhi and the others who had laid the tunnel’s foundation, allegedly went missing the day Modi opened it to public, prompting the Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee to lead a protest outside the Lahaul and Spiti District headquarters in 2020.
According to local reports, the district administration has already got in touch with Border Roads Organisation and decided where the foundation stone will be placed.
The row over the credit for the Atal tunnel had reportedly started even before the Sukhu government was sworn in.
At the time of Mandi parliamentary bypolls, won by Congress leader Pratibha Singh last year, former chief of the Congress’s Himachal unit, Kuldeep Singh Rathore, had demanded the restoration of the plaque bearing Gandhi’s name.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
Also read: ‘Nadda’s interventions, misplaced focus on PoK over OPS’ — many reasons for BJP’s Himachal loss