Himachal Pradesh has an election history of not repeating its governments and the Opposition BJP in the hilly state is making all efforts to continue the trend. BJP President Amit Shah visited the state on September 22 and 23 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is proposed to visit Bilaspur to lay the foundation stone of AIIMS.
Bilaspur is not only the home constituency of Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda but also the Parliamentary Constituency of former BCCI Chief Anurag Thakur, who also held the charge of National President of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) until January 2017. According to sources, Modi may leave a hint on who will lead the party in the upcoming Assembly election, which is proposed to be held in mid-November.
The BJP has so far not announced who will lead the party in the elections. However, sources said that Thakur not being inducted in the Modi government during the recent cabinet expansion indicates that his father and former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal may be given the responsibility. Dhumal is considered to be the front-runner for the Chief Minister’s post if BJP returns to power in the hilly state. Union Minister JP Nadda is another leader in the party whose name is doing the rounds in the state for the CM’s post.
BJP has already set the target of 50 plus seats in the Assembly polls. It had won 43 seats in 2007 Assembly elections. However, the party lost power in the 2012 polls to the Congress that secured 36 seats in the 68-member House.
Though Himachal is considered to be a small state in the national political scenario, this time the state elections are important for the party keeping in the view the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Nadda had recently indicated that he wants to serve his home state but from Delhi. Moreover, despite frequent visits to the state, he has not shown any serious interest in becoming chief minister. He does not even have any strong group within the party in his home state, though his followers are hoping that Nadda remains a front-runner for the chief ministerial post. It is said that Nadda, who is holding the Union Minister charge and is also very powerful in the party’s organisational structure, does not want to join state politics where he remained a Cabinet Minister in the previous Dhumal government for five years.
Interestingly, a group of party leaders, who are close to the RSS camp, feels that the party’s central leadership may rope in some men from the organisation before or after the elections for the CM’s post. They claimed this was the reason the BJP has almost announced names of the leaders for the CM posts in those states where Assembly elections are due in the coming months, but in Himachal it has not made any announcement or given any indication.
If common party workers are asked about their choice they feel that the party will give one more chance to former chief minister Dhumal, who is considered to be the most popular face in the state BJP. Currently Leader of Opposition, Dhumal belongs to the Rajput community which has majority voters in the state. He is a staunch political rival of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who is currently facing corruption charges in court. Singh usually blames Dhumal and describes the matter as a political vendetta against him.
It is also worth mentioning that the Congress government under the leadership of Singh has filed cases against Anurag Thakur, who is the president of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) and son of Dhumal, for allegedly illegally occupying the state land for constructing a HPCA-owned hotel in Dharamshala. This land was allotted to HPCA when his father was the state chief minister. The matter is still pending. The Virbhadra Singh government, a few years ago, had locked the Dharamshala stadium premises and later refused to provide security for the IPL matches due to which matches were not held there. Thakur described this as Congress government’s political vendetta against him and his father.
Interestingly, all these developments have become a part of state politics and are likely to be a big issue during the forthcoming Assembly elections. Thakur’s supporters have alleged that Virbhadra Singh is jealous of him because he has allegedly developed the state’s cricket. They claim that it is due to Thakur’s efforts that the opportunity to hold IPL cricket matches and International ODIs came to the state.
HPCA spokesperson Sanjay Sharma claims that this has also boosted the tourism industry in the state. “Many cricketers from this small hilly state have reached international level and credit for this goes to Anurag who single-handedly built this grand infrastructure in the state,” he said. “Even his rivals admit that Anurag has made great contributions to the field of cricket, not only in the state but in the whole country as BCCI Secretary and President.”
There were rumours that Thakur may be inducted into the Union Council of Ministers, but he missed the bus.
Political observers feel that had Thakur been inducted, there would be minimal chances of father Dhumal becoming the chief minister after the elections. But now, it seems Dhumal will be given a chance. Dhumal was once considered to be very close to Modi when he was the party in-charge in Himachal. Interestingly, Dhumal is a staunch rival of former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar, now MP from Kangra. Shanta Kumar once had strong clout in the state BJP but with the passage of time he has lost that.
BJP had recently won the Municipal Corporation election in Shimla for the first time in the state’s history. Shimla is considered to be a stronghold of ruling Congress. However, the party will have to work day and night to make its deep footing in Shimla district which has eight Assembly seats out of which majority had gone into the Congress kitty in the 2012 poll. After winning the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections, BJP is hoping to play well in Shimla district this time. However, Congress is leaving no stone unturned to keep intact its stronghold.
BJP has also succeeded in bringing back its senior leader and former state chief Maheshwar Singh to its fold. The party is trying to rope in two other senior leaders of Kangra including Rajan Sushant. Some Congress leaders have switched sides. However, state Congress Chief Sukhwinder Sukhu claims that these leaders have no say in the politics.