With Dhumal's loss BJP may chose these leaders to be Himachal chief minister
The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) big win in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh has ironically placed the party in a piquant situation. With its chief ministerial face Prem Kumar Dhumal having lost his seat, the party now faces the dilemma of whom to put in the driver's seat.
The biggest challenge before the party is that the candidate has to be someone acceptable to its MLAs besides having a pan-Himachal image.
As of now, there are some names doing the rounds as frontrunners for the hot seat. The foremost is that of the Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda, who was being discussed for the post even before campaigning had started in the state. He is seen as a blue-eyed boy of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah.
He was considered to be BJP's chief ministerial candidate until October by a lot of people, particularly in lower Himachal. This was evident from the fact that the party leadership had decided upon not naming a chief ministerial candidate till the results were out. Modi and Shah were trying to replicate the strategy they had adopted in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh of centralising the ticket distribution and then imposing a chief minister on the states.
However, when Modi did not drop Nadda from his cabinet in the reshuffle doubts arose. The general perception was that had he wanted Nadda as the next chief minister, he would have dropped him from the Union cabinet and asked him to take control of campaign and organisational affairs on the ground.
Even in his rally in the first week of October on Nadda's home turf of Bilaspur Modi did not project him as the next chief minister further dampening the spirits of Nadda supporters.
But then Himachal was altogether a different ball game. Despite what is perceived as their dislike for Dhumal, they had to declare Dhumal as their chief ministerial face just nine days ahead of the polls.
This was because their strategy adopted in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh had failed and things were not going the way they had expected. The Dhumal camp had managed to exert enough pressure to make him the face. Ironically, a large number of journalists batted for Dhumal before the senior BJP leaders for Dhumal for obvious reasons. Just when Dhumal's name was declared, Nadda's direct involvement in the campaign reportedly declined.
Nadda might be Modi and Shah's blue-eyed boy but his drawback remains of not having a pan-Himachal image in comparison to either Dhumal or the outgoing Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. In addition to this, the general perception about him is of making a lot of noise and delivering very little in comparison.
The second face that has emerged for the post of the chief minister of the state is that of Jai Ram Thakur. His being summoned to Delhi by the party high command on the day of the declaration of the results set the tongues wagging about his chances of being elevated to the post. He has won the Assembly polls for the fifth time from Seraj constituency in Mandi and has functioned as the rural development minister in the state in the past.
“He has nothing much to write home about. His biggest advantage is that he is backed by the RSS. He has never lost an election till now. The biggest challenge in his case would be that how many of the BJP MLAs will support him for the top post although they will all fall in line if he is declared the chief minister from the top. His becoming the chief minister would be simply the Sangh's choice. In terms of popularity among the masses, his domain doesn't cross the district of Mandi which although politically crucial to both the Congress and the BJP does not represent entire Himachal,” said a political analyst based in Shimla.
Another analyst pointed that Thakur is too soft a person to take control of the bureaucracy in the state and if the bureaucracy goes out of hand, Himachal could well be on the way to become another Uttarakhand where bureaucrats are all powerful and dictate things to the political bosses.
The third name doing the rounds for the chief ministerial post is that of the dark horse Ajay Jamwal. A RSS pracharak from Mandi district, he is said to be the Sangh's blue-eyed boy, particularly a favourite of Chief Mohan Bhagwat.
He has worked in various capacities as Sangh functionary in Solan district of the state and later in Arunachal Pradesh and also Ladakh. He is credited with giving strength to the BJP's organisational structure in troubled areas like Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and the Northeast. People expected him to be fielded from one of the constituencies in Mandi as the BJP candidate.
“You never know if he becomes the next chief minister. If Manohar Lal Khattar can become the chief minister of Haryana so can he,” said a political analyst at Shimla.
People are also pointing to the trend of the Sangh Parivar imposing chief ministers in states where the BJP comes to power with a handsome margin. The examples being given are that of Haryana, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and even Gujarat where Vijay Rupani was made the chief minister a year ahead of the polls.
On the flip side, Jamwal does not have any mass base and has never made any public appearances in Himachal.
There are many of the Dhumal supporters who are still batting for him. Despite his loss, they want him to be made the chief minister and contest again from a 'safe' seat in the next six months. This appears to be a remote possibility.
The observers also do not rule out the possibility of the party coming up with a big surprise and imposing an altogether different face on the state. Whoever gets the post will literally get a crown of thorns because he would have to start from scratch as none of the contenders has the experience of ever being a chief minister in this hill state.