Cabinet reshuffle ensures fluid situation on BJP's choice for Himachal CM face
In the Union Cabinet reshuffle carried out on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not make any changes to the representation from election-bound Himachal Pradesh. However, he did bring in more people from other poll-bound states like Karnataka as well as Odisha.
Modi continued to retain Jagat Prakash Nadda as the Union Health Minister and he did not introduce any new face from Himachal in the reshuffle.
This has left the situation fluid with regards to the golden question of who will be the BJP's chief ministerial choice in the small hill state where multiple names continue to do the round leading to insecurity among candidates and confusion among the cadre.
Over the last few days, speculations were rife in the state that Modi might give a place to the former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal or his son Anurag Thakur in the union cabinet and thus put a lid over the internal tussle in the party in Himachal Pradesh.
“A lot of news stories got planted in the local media with all sorts of speculations that could end the uncertainty with regards to the BJP's chief ministerial face. But that was not to be. The situation remains as fluid as ever,” says a local political analyst based in Shimla.
Age is (not) just a number
There is a confusion on account of the BJP having earlier reportedly laid out an unwritten norm of not having people above the age of 75 years in elected political offices. The recent reports about its national president Amit Shah saying that there is no such rule of tradition forbidding leaders above the age of 75 contesting the polls has added to the confusion.
This is being interpreted in different ways in the context of Dhumal in Himachal. If the BJP does not want a person above the age of 75 years to become the next chief minister, his chances of leading the state for another five years is remote as he has attained 73 years of age recently.
“But if the BJP can make an exception for its leader BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka, then why not for Dhumal in Himachal Pradesh. In any case, even if the 75-year-old bar remains, Dhumal could have been inducted into the cabinet,” points out a BJP supporter.
Another speculation that is rife about Dhumal is that Modi might get him appointed as one of the Governors to a state since there are multiple vacancies for the post at present.
The odds in favour
But for the time being Dhumal's supporters feel that doors are still open for him to become the next chief minister of the state.
They contend that Dhumal is the only leader in Himachal who can match the mass appeal of Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. They say that the appeal of other leaders do not go beyond their respective districts. They claim that Dhumal has a following even the remote areas of the tribal districts of Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti.
At this point of time, Nadda is being seen as the front runner for the post of the chief minister if the BJP comes to power in the State Assembly polls scheduled to be held within the next three months.
But with Modi retaining him as a central minister, there is a fresh point of view that has emerged. It is being contended that had the BJP been absolutely clear on him being its choice for the chief ministerial post he would have been relieved and told to hit the campaign at the ground level which has not been done.
Despite age being on his side and his elevation as a union minister, Nadda still lacks a pan-Himachal image. He has a reputation of making a lot of noise on issues but not matching it in terms of delivery.
Reports say that the people of his home district of Bilaspur, which also include BJP supporters and cadres, are unhappy over the delay of the establishment of an All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at Kothipura in the district.
Over the last one year, both Dhumal and Nadda have been permanent fixtures at all the state level events of the BJP. These include the Parivartan Yatras and a series of rallies attended by top leaders from the central unit of the party.
Besides Nadda and Dhumal, names of many other contenders for the top post in Himachal Pradesh are also doing the rounds. These include that of Ajay Kumar Jamwal who is seen as a dark horse in the race.
With a strong RSS background and having delivered electoral victories at various places including Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and in Punjab in 2012, Jamwal can be a surprise choice for the post if the RSS continues with the trend of getting people from its organisational cadres placed at the helm just as it has done in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh recently.
The other names being floated are that of senior leader Jai Ram Thakur, state unit chief Satpal Satti and even the Bollywood actor Anupam Kher who has been very vocal on BJP's narratives on various issues.