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How BJP has landed itself in a mess despite a victory in Himachal Pradesh

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 22 December 2017, 19:35 IST

'Et tu Amit Shah...' This is what the former chief minister Professor Prem Kumar Dhumal should be saying after his loss in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls. Himachal is a state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has landed itself in a mess despite a major victory. Dhumal, who was the chief minister-designate of the party lost his own seat of Sujanpur to his one-time protege Rajinder Rana of the Congress.

Observers point out that the party supporters are squarely blaming the party high command for Dhumal's loss and landing itself in a position where choosing a chief minister has become a big crossword puzzle.

This is evident from the fact that the party has decided to announce the state chief minister at Delhi instead of Shimla where Dhumal's supporters created a scene during Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar's visit. Sitharaman and Tomar had come to meet the elected MLAs. Dhumal's supporters want him to be made the chief minister despite the loss.

On the other side were slogan-shouting supporters of Jai Ram Thakur, the Seraj MLA who has emerged as one of the frontrunners for the post along with Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda and a dark horse from the RSS ranks – Ajay Jamwal.

The general perception among the people of the state, as well as a major section of the BJP workers and supporters, is that Dhumal became a victim of the trap laid by the party's leadership that did not want him to be the chief minister right from the beginning. He was made the chief ministerial face only when the central leadership under the BJP's national president found that things were not going their way in the state.

“This was one of those rare occasions that the party's top bosses decided to go into poll-mode minus a chief ministerial face despite the victory chances being very high. They did not name Dhumal as the face. To make matters worse for him, they shifted him out of his constituency of Hamirpur to Sujanpur where the odds were against him right from the word go. When things started going haywire and they were 'pressurised' by the Dhumal camp to declare him the chief ministerial face nine days ahead of the polls, they ensured that he campaigned across the state while the party took it upon itself to campaign on his seat. The result was a shocker for him and he continues to receive jibes from his opponents on the dictum of there being many a slip between the cup and the lips coming true in his case. Doesn't all this show a pattern?” pointed a political observer based in Shimla.

The BJP's image continues to get a battering in the aftermath of the polls as various perceptions are taking root.

Many people are seeing Dhumal's loss as a point of a comeback for the group led by former chief minister Shanta Kumar and Nadda.

Shanta has once again emerged tall with his home turf of Kangra delivering 11 of the 15 seats for the party. Ironically Indu Goswamy, the party candidate on Shanta's stronghold of Palampur, who is seen being very close to Modi, lost because of a BJP rebel and Shanta's protege Pravin Kumar throwing his hat in the ring.

There are many who believe that she could have been a surprise choice for the top slot had she won.

The Dhumal camp demanding that he be made the chief minister despite his loss is turning out to be a big embarrassment for the party. Ironically, it is not only Dhumal but his entire coterie that has lost.

These include names like his son Anurag Thakur's father in law Gulab Singh Thakur who lost from his citadel of Jogindernagar, Randhir Sharma who lost from Naina Devi and Ravinder Ravi who lost from Dehra.

Those seeking that Dhumal be given an opportunity to become the new chief minister are citing the case of Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who got a cabinet berth despite his defeat during the Modi wave in 2014 Lok Sabha polls to Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress on Amritsar seat.

A group of senior journalists is also shamelessly batting for Dhumal because of the obvious reason that many of them have been eying post-retirement assignments and all their plans have gone awry because of Dhumal's loss.

“How can you expect him to be made the chief minister despite his having lost after being declared the chief ministerial face? What kind of precedent would the BJP set by doing this?” pointed an observer in Shimla.

Even a section of the state bureaucracy that is seen close to Dhumal has been reportedly upset because their calculations on plum postings and assignments have gone astray with Dhumal biting the dust in what many see as his last electoral battle.

The BJP is now facing a situation where it will have to choose a new chief minister that should be acceptable to various factions within the party as the bigger goal now is to ensure a good performance in the 2019.

This new face will have to start delivering immediately after taking over as the 2019 polls are barely a year and a half away. Everyone is awaiting the declaration of the new chief minister from Delhi.

It is expected that like other states that the BJP has won under the Modi-Shah leadership, Himachal too would join the club where a name would be announced by the central leadership and everyone would have to nod in acceptance. Till then the drama continues.

First published: 22 December 2017, 19:35 IST