Himachal polls: Going into battle without a CM face proves to be BJP's handicap
Going into the forthcoming Assembly battle in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh without a chief ministerial face is proving to be a major handicap for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party supporters are blaming the BJP's national president Amit Shah for centralising the party functioning and going ahead with this 'faulty' strategy in the state.
With no face to lead the campaign, the BJP continues to stand divided into camps, wary of each other. The cadres fear that the lack of clarity may lead to certain desperate steps from the supporters. And this may harm the party's poll prospects all the more.
The BJP had decided to continue with its formula adopted for the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Assembly polls early this year where it managed to register landslide victories. The formula was to go into battle without announcing the chief ministerial face and seek votes in the name of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the performance of the BJP-led central government.
This formula worked in the two states where the polls were held earlier because the impact of demonetisation was yet to percolate through the society. It worked even though youngsters had started losing their jobs and were returning home to their villages.
This reporter had interacted with some of these youngsters who were still buying the BJP line that demonetisation would end the menace of black money and this was something good for the nation. They were also deriving some kind of satisfaction from the fact that the middle classes and in some case their 'exploitative' employers were running helter-skelter.
This was also the time when the BJP, including Modi, were playing up demonetisation as a phenomenon that was giving sleepless nights to the corrupt. This continued till a couple of months back and in Himachal, it was the 27 April rally on the Ridge in Shimla where Modi was heard singing high praises of demonetisation.
The pandora's box
But ever since the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) came out with its disclosures on demonetisation and this was followed by the unrest yielding from the shoddy implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), things started changing. People also came face to face with the growing unemployment and the downturn in the economy.
The result has been that Modi did not even mention either GST or demonetisation during his Bilaspur rally earlier this month and neither are the BJP leaders talking about them in their campaigns.
With the 'Modi wave' fizzling out and the party refraining from naming a chief ministerial candidate, confusion rules the BJP camp.
“To make matters worse, the distribution of tickets became a totally centralised affair where the views of the senior party leaders of the states were taken, but not adhered to. This was also along the lines of what the party had done in the case of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The result is that the party leadership is now having to spend lots of time and energy to pacify a large number of rebels who have filed their nominations,” pointed out a political observer.
This task comes in addition to managing the various camps engrossed in one-upmanship on the issue of who would be the chief minister.
Pick a name please...
The party leaders are unable to give a convincing reply on the issue of the chief ministerial candidate. All that they have been saying in response to the media queries is – “The party is collectively fighting the elections. The chief minister is to be decided by the central parliamentary board of the party.”
The names of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, union health minister Jagat Prakash Nadda, senior RSS functionary Ajay Jamwal and party's state unit chief Sat Pal Satti continue to do the rounds in the public domain with functionaries from various camps trying to plant stories in the media.
Dhumal has been giving interviews regularly to the various media organisations where he as been referring to the issue saying that the party needs to take a call as it has always declared a chief ministerial candidate beforehand since its inception. He has been saying that since Himachal is a small state, an emotional connect of the people with the party and its leadership carries a lot of weight.
But his critics see all this as a desperate but 'safe' way of projecting himself.
“In fact, this is the difference between him and his Congress rival Virbhadra Singh. The latter can get things done his way by standing up to the central leadership of the party but Dhumal does not have that kind of nerve. The Amit Shah-devised a model of centralisation of party affairs is not working to satisfaction in Himachal,” pointed out a political observer in Shimla.
Even the BJP supporters have been pointing out how Amit Shah threw all the party norms to the winds to bring in Anil Sharma, former union minister Sukh Ram's son and a minister in the Virbhadra government, and give him a ticket to contest from Mandi.
The Dhumal camp has also been trying to gain sympathy over the party changing his constituency to Sujanpur. A video of him wiping away tears was also circulated some days back although people say that it was from another occasion in the past.
Many were expecting the declaration of Nadda's name during Modi's rally on his home turf earlier this month but that was not to be. It is being pointed that had the party been clear on Nadda's name, Modi would have dropped him as a central minister in the recent cabinet re-shuffle and would have asked him to hit the ground.
The BJP leaders and workers are still expecting that Modi or Shah might declare the chief ministerial face in one of their rallies when the campaign builds up just like senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani had done at the eleventh hour for the 1998 Assembly polls.
Many fear that if this not done, the desperate and confused cadres can resort to anything including voting for the party rebels. But till the face is declared, the party has no option but to seek votes in the name of Modi.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen