New Delhi: The defeat of the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal has thrown up a peculiar situation for the party which swept the assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, winning a full majority with 44 seats in the 68-member House. The party observers nominated to identify the next chief minister held consultations with both the newly-elected MLAs and the party central leadership on Tuesday.
The party had after a parliamentary board meeting on December 18 nominated Union ministers Nirmala Sitaraman and Narendra Singh Tomar as observers for the state and asked them to hold consultations with all the stakeholders. On Tuesday, the two observers met national president Amit Shah. The meeting was also attended by some senior party leaders from Himachal Pradesh. The party is now faced with this tricky situation because of Dhumal’s loss against his one-time protégé-turned-foe and Congress candidate Rajinder Singh Rana by a margin of 2,933 votes.
However, despite his loss, two-time chief minister Dhumal had expressed his desire to be considered for the promised top post. In an interview to a national daily he was quoted as saying: “Personal loss does not have much importance, the main gain is the victory of the state BJP and at the national level.”
On whether he was still in the race, the septuagenarian leader had replied: “The winning BJP candidate from Kutlehar has offered to vacate his seat for you. I want to thank him, and do not want to comment further.” However, it looks unlikely that the BJP’s central leadership would let Dhumal have another shot at the coveted post.
The race for the top post in the state has once again been thrown wide open. Union health minister J.P. Nadda, who had canvassed hard to be projected as the CM face before the polls, is believed to be once again eyeing the job. However, past experience shows that BJP has not been too keen on sending its central leaders or ministers to the states as CM. Be it Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, Trivendra Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand, Raghubar Das in Jharkhand, Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra or even Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana, all were lesser known faces chosen for the CM’s post.
Though there is a political view which believes that Nadda could be sent to the state in view of his growing clout in the party, it is noteworthy to remember that it was just nine days before the voting on November 9 in the state that Shah had announced Dhumal’s name as the party’s chief ministerial face. This had put to rest all speculations about other leaders, including Nadda, who has been in Modi’s cabinet since 2014 and has close links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Also, it is pertinent to note that after the parliamentary board meeting, BJP had tasked Nadda to announce that the observers ” will speak to the MLAs to elect new leaders of the party.”
Barring Manohar Parrikar, who was divested of his defence portfolio and sent to Goa to head the government after the assembly elections threw up a fractured verdict in the state, there are also no other big names which suggest the party’s inclination of taking steps that leave vacancies in the Union cabinet and also necessitate fresh by-elections in the states.
Therefore, several senior Himachal Pradesh MLAs, whose names are now doing the rounds, appear serious contenders for the chief minister’s post. The front-runner among them is five-time MLA Jairam Thakur.
With several other senior party leaders from the state such as unit head Satpal Singh Satti also having been defeated in the polls, very few leaders of repute are there to choose from for the BJP. These include Mohinder Singh from Dharampur, who became MLA for the seventh time, and former state BJP president Suresh Bharadwaj and four-time MLA Krishan Kapoor.
Thakur, who is the most experienced having served as a minister in the Dhumal government earlier, indicated that he was in the running for the post. He was quoted by a news agency as saying that “whatever the party will decide I will do. I am very happy that there is going to be BJP government in Himachal Pradesh.”
In the elections, BJP had secured 44 seats, while the Congress had bagged 21, independents two and the Communist Party of India one.