Why BJP's Defeat in Himachal Pradesh Is a Personal Setback for J.P. Nadda

Since losing the hill state, BJP spokespersons have been keen to portray the defeat as not a 'very bad loss', pointing to a less than 1% vote share difference between the BJP and Congress. Yet not all is rosy for Nadda.

Chandigarh: While the Bharatiya Janata Party has been keen to portray the party’s defeat in the Himachal Pradesh assembly polls as not a ‘very bad loss’, political observers in the state say the defeat in Himachal must have contributed to the discomfort of party’s national president J.P. Nadda.

Not only is Nadda a son of the soil but he also micromanaged the campaign in the state.

As the party’s star campaigner, Nadda addressed nearly 20 rallies, crisscrossing the state in the run-up to the election. However, the party bagged only 25 seats in the 68-member legislative assembly, 19 seats short of its previous tally of 44 seats.

Nadda, who started his political career in Himachal’s Bilaspur, spent over two decades in state politics before attaining national prominence. The only face-saver for Nadda is that the BJP has been able to bag three out of four seats in his home district. On the other hand, it has been much worse for Union minister Anurag Thakur, another star campaigner, as the party lost all five seats in his home district of Hamirpur.

However, BJP’s spokespersons have been repeatedly emphasising that the difference of the party’s overall vote percentage against Congress was below 1% – the lowest ever in the electoral history of the state.

Also read: Custom or Congress: What Swung Himachal Against BJP?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president J.P. Nadda also underlined the same point during their address in Delhi which otherwise was marked by the party’s unprecedented poll victory on Prime Minister’s home turf in Gujarat.

Issues in poll management

Notwithstanding the BJP’s reasoning for the loss in the hill state, political analysts say there have been serious lapses in the party’s overall poll management.

The Wire has reached out to several BJP leaders from the state, including veteran leader Shanta Kumar, but they refused to comment on the party’s loss.

Shimla-based political expert Professor Ramesh Chauhan believes that Nadda being the party’s national president as well as an old war horse in local politics must own up responsibility for the loss, as his was the face with which the party campaigned in the state besides Narendra Modi.

“If the party has lost the election under his command, he must own up responsibility. If not for everything, at least for ticket allocation or failure to contain mismanagement after the seat announcement, which is being widely blamed for bringing the party’s tally down in this election,” he added.

Women at a BJP rally in Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Facebook/BJP Himachal Pradesh.

Chauhan recalled a purported phone conversation of Kirpal Parmar, a party rebel, with PM Modi in which the former is heard accusing Nadda for his revolt against the party. The video had gone viral during the campaign.

Senior journalist Ashwani Sharma told The Wire that Nadda would have been a star attraction if the BJP had secured a win in Himachal.

He said there were a host of factors behind the BJP’s poll defeat but one prominent reason was its experiment to deny tickets to 11 sitting MLAs and changing the constituencies of several others in order to beat the anti-incumbency of its five-year rule.

Also read: BJP Loses Himachal Pradesh, Where it Has No Community to Demonise

Nearly a dozen other prominent leaders were also denied tickets. This led to widespread resentment within its ranks and file. Nadda and Thakur tried to intervene but could not control it, he added.

Ashwani believed it was an experiment which BJP successfully implemented in other states. But it did not work here since Himachal being a small state has different political dynamics.

Rebels play spoilsport

It is now evident that rebels ruined the BJP’s chances in at least eight seats, which could have otherwise changed the course of the election.

 In Dehra and Nalagarh assembly segments, party rebels Hoshyar Singh and K.L. Thakur, respectively, won the elections by defeating BJP’s official candidates. In other constituencies, rebels’ presence led to the defeat of the party’s nominees due to the splitting of votes

 For instance, in Kangra district’s Indora constituency, BJP candidate Reeta Devi lost to Congress candidate Malender Rajan by 2,250 votes after party rebel Manohar Lal secured more than 4,500 votes as an independent.

In Dharamshala, BJP candidate Rakesh Kumar lost to Congress candidate Sudhir Verma by 3,100 votes. BJP’s rebel candidate Vipin Kumar Neharia secured more than 7,400 votes as an Independent.

In Kullu, BJP candidate Narotam Singh lost to Congress’ Sundar Singh Thakur by nearly 3,500 votes after party rebel Ram Singh played spoilsport by securing more than 11,000 votes as an Independent candidate.

Similarly, BJP’s loss in the tribal seat of Kinnaur is also blamed on the presence of party rebel Tejwant Singh Negi who secured more than 8,500 votes as an Independent.

Meanwhile, BJP’s experiment to change the seats of some of its sitting MLAs also proved costly.

For instance, the party had shifted urban development minister Suresh Bhardwaj from his traditional Shimla (Urban) seat to Kasumpti and forest minister Rakesh Pathania from Nurpur to Fatehpur in Kangra district at the last minute. Both Bhardwaj and Pathania lost the elections by a margin of 8,655 and 7,354 votes, respectively. Bhardwaj supporters are blaming it on ticket distribution.

Poll analyst Harish Thakur says despite evident factionalism in the party resulting in a number of BJP leaders contesting as rebels, nothing of that sort came out into the public domain, as it was contained by the party managers. The silence over internal dissidence proved costly for the party in the end, he added.