By Ashima Makhija
On December 18, the Bharatiya Janata Party transformed the political landscape of Himachal Pradesh by scoring a resounding victory in the state assembly polls and wresting power from the incumbent Congress regime. By bagging 44 out of the total 68 seats in the state legislature, the BJP emerged as the single largest party and draped another Indian state in saffron.
However, the BJP now faces a significant challenge. The party’s candidate for chief minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal, who led the party to its triumph in the election, lost his own constituency. Now, since Dhumal is not in contention for the chief ministerial post, Union Health Minister J P Nadda and senior leader Jai Ram Thakur have become the leading competitors for the top job, according to the Times of India.
Dhumal’s successful failure
Although the BJP only announced Dhumal’s candidature for the CM’s job late in the campaign, he was undoubtedly the party’s strongest contender. He has already served twice as CM and so has strong state-wide visibility and support. During his two stints as chief minister, the hill state saw significant infrastructure development, particularly of its road and rail systems.
The second reason is that, as a Rajput, he fits in well with the social make-up of the state. Since the inception of Himachal Pradesh, its politics has been dominated by Rajput leaders. This is largely because Rajputs constitute about 33% of the state’s population while Brahmins make up about 18%. Ironically, while several BJP candidates owe their success to the influence and support extended to them by Dhumal, he himself lost to his protégé and friend-turned-foe, Rajinder Rana of Congress.
Handicapping the contenders
The two major contenders, J P Nadda and Jai Ram Thakur, bring different advantages to the table for the BJP. Five-term MLA Thakur has the ‘Rajput card’ as a member of the caste. He served as a cabinet minister in the previous BJP government from 2007 to 2012, and as state party president from 2007 to 2009, in which role he was considered to be non-controversial.
On the other corner is Union minister J P Nadda, from Vijaypur in Bilaspur district. Nadda played a very active role during the last electoral campaign. He previously served in the Himachal cabinet and, before the announcement of Dhumal’s candidature, he was also considered for the CM post. He has been in Modi’s cabinet since 2014 and is strongly linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
However, the BJP has shown a strong inclination towards choosing a local leader, one who is familiar with the people and the internal workings of the state. Also, in other states, the party has shown no desire to take steps that leave vacancies in the Union cabinet. Thus, Thakur appears to be in the more advantageous position.
How will the CM be selected?
The Central Parliamentary Board of the BJP has dispatched two teams to choose the next CMs in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and party General Secretary Saroj Pandey have gone to Gandhinagar while Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar went to Shimla. They will hold consultations with the local MLAs before announcing the final names.
The BJP may have lost its most prominent face in Himachal Pradesh, but it still has an excellent array of leaders to replace him. BJP’s victory would not have been possible without Dhumal’s candidature but a new administration can function just as well without him. Although the party has to hold several discussions before deciding on its CM, the competition is clearly tilting in favour of the local insider, Jai Ram Thakur.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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