Why BJP isn't naming a chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh
As the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh marches towards another election, there is a deviation in BJP's poll strategy this time around.
Unlike previous occasions, where it was pretty clear right from the beginning that the polls were being fought under the leadership of either the veteran leader Shanta Kumar or Prem Kumar Dhumal, the party has not declared a chief ministerial candidate. Without any such clarity, this has led to confusion among supporters, party leaders, workers and voters.
Even though the party expects to win because of the anti-incumbency wave being faced by the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government, as well as the tradition of Himachal choosing winners from alternative parties, it now has a problem of plenty in its hands when it comes to a the top post.
As a result, it has been hit by factionalism as various groups are pushing for different contenders. Many believe that it is for this same reason that the party high command has refrained from announcing any one name for now.
“The party is trying a different strategy this time. The central leadership knows that announcing a chief ministerial candidate at this point of time would mean rival factions will not work with enthusiasm for a party victory. With leaders having made tall claims of setting victory targets at 50-plus or 60-plus seats out of the total 68 seats in their public speeches, executing them on the ground appears to be a far fetched thought at this point of time,” said a senior political observer in Shimla.
On the contrary, the ruling Congress has talked of a far more realistic target of winning 45-plus seats and has declared Virbhadra Singh as its chief ministerial face.
Over the last few months, the 'Modi wave' has been fizzling out after demonetisation crippled the economy and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) added fuel to the fire.
This party leadership realises that victory may not be all that easy. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates have recognised this factor.
It was also evident during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's public rally in Bilaspur a few days ago where he did not touch either the topic of demonetisation or GST. The same Modi had played up demonetisation in his rally on the Ridge in Shimla in April this year.
While Union minister Jagat Prakash Nadda and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal remain the main contenders for the post the names of other contestants are also doing the rounds.
The party leadership added to the confusion recently by retaining Nadda as a central minister during the recent Cabinet reshuffle.
“Had there been any clear thought on him being the chief ministerial face, he would have been relieved and asked to go and work for the organisation on the ground. But at the same time Modi chose to address a mammoth rally on his home turf of Bilaspur. The party also desisted from making Dhumal a governor, which was also being expected in certain quarters when it filled the vacant Raj Bhawan slots in some of the states recently. This has left the race wide open,” a BJP supporter from Chamba told this reporter.
What has left the party workers and supporters surprised is that the name of Bollywood personality Anupam Kher is doing the rounds, particularly outside Shimla circles. Observers do not rule him out as a 'last minute surprise'.
“There has been some talk of Kher being fielded as a candidate from the Shimla (Rural) constituency. The noise made around his purchasing a house in Jutogh area which is a part of this constituency is also being seen as a indication towards this. This is a seat currently represented by Virbhadra and his son and Youth Congress chief Vikramaditya Singh is expected to be the new Congress candidate there,” said the political observer.
It is being said that if Kher contests on this seat, he would enter as a heavy weight. His Shimla connect, the stories on his humble background and his Bollywood aura would all work in his favour besides being one of the most vocal supporters of Modi on social and other platforms.
However, it is the RSS functionary from Mandi district Ajay Jamwal who is being seen as the dark horse in the race for the chief minister's post. With the Sangh firmly behind him and the trend of RSS functionaries like Yogi Adityanath becoming the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and Trivenda Singh Rawat being anointed at the top post in Uttarakhand, Jamwal being placed as the chief minister cannot be ruled out.
The BJP leadership is clear that this time they will be seeking the votes in the name of Modi and not any local leader. In fact, things appear to have been totally centralised in the party. There are reports saying that the ticket seekers are perplexed over whom to approach for tickets.
BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti has said that a 16-member state election committee headed by him along with Dhumal, Nadda and Shanta Kumar will be recommending the names to the high command for clearance. There are reports of the party carrying out a three-tier survey to zero in on the candidates. This again is a deviation from the past when recommendation of leaders carried weight in deciding the candidates. Sources say that this time around the powers lie vested solely with the party's national president Amit Shah.
The factionalism ridden party has drawn jibes from Virbhadra, who has dared it to present its chief ministerial face against him.
In his chat with the media persons after the recent Rahul Gandhi rally at Mandi, he said, “The ball is in the BJP ‘s court to name its chief ministerial candidate. People should know before the poll as what kind of leaders the BJP wants to project in the state or who is going to be their leader?”