In a surprise move, BJP on Tuesday announced Prem Kumar Dhumal as the its chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh. Addressing a rally in Rajgarh in Solan District, party President Amit Shah announced that the BJP campaign will be led by two-time Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. Shah said Dhumal will be the next Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh after December 18, the day of the counting of votes. Shah thus ended speculation over the party’s choice for the top post. The assembly poll in Himachal Pradesh is scheduled on November 9 and results will be declared on December 18.
Himachal Pradesh is one of those very few states in which Congress is in Power. If Surveys are to be believed, BJP is winning close to 50 seats in the 68-seat-assembly. Also Himachal is one of those states where BJP and Congress have ruled the state alternately for three decades.
Prem Kumar Dhumal is a Senior Leader of BJP and was the 12th chief minister of the Himachal Pradesh. He has twice been the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh from March 1998 to March 2003 and again from 1st January 2008 to 25 December 2012. Presently, he holds the designation of Leader of Opposition in the state assembly.
Prem Kumar Dhumal became vice-president of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha in 1982. In 1984, he was selected as the candidate for the Hamirpur parliamentary constituency when the sitting Member of the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly Jagdev Chand, refused to contest. He was president of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh from 1993 and became the state’s Chief Minister in March 1998.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Prem Kumar Dhumal as a leader of towering stature with rich administrative experience in the state. “Dhumalji is among our senior most leaders with rich administrative experience in Himachal. He will once again make a wonderful CM” he tweeted.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 31, 2017
The PM also said that his party’s focus was the “politics of development,” with the goal of making the state corruption-free.
PM Modi is once again expected to play a crucial role, as he was the state in-charge of Himachal Pradesh BJP from 1994 to 2000, and understands the state politics better than many within the BJP. PM Modi in one of his rallies in the state mentioned that Himachal needs a leadership that can last for at least 10-15 years.
There were at least four claimants for the chief minister’s post.
BJP’s Organizational Secretary for North-East Ajay Jamwal, a leader from Himachal, currently Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak (volunteer) was strongest claimant for the chief Minister Candidate of the Party.
Ajay Jamwal played a crucial role in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when he was given the command of the states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. Two factors that go in the favour of Ajay Jamwal that he is from RSS background and fits into Modi-Shah’s definition of a New Face. However Ajay Jamwal was not a public figure and faced strong opposition from established leaders of the Hill state.
BJP’s state president Satpal Satti was also in the race of CM post but was sidelined by the party following poor ratings in the surveys conducted by BJP.
Strongman from Kangra Shanta Kumar was also in the race of CM candidate but was ruled out, because he has was over the undeclared age bar of 75 by the BJP to take up ministerial posts.
These calculations left the BJP with only two options Prem Kumar Dhumal and Union health minister JP Nadda. Dhumal and Nadda both come from lower Himachal, an area with a greater number of assembly seats than upper Himachal. But the former chief minister figured higher in popularity ratings in party surveys and feedback from the state leaders confirmed it.
Prem Kumar Dhumal on the other hand a two-time chief minister and a widely popular figure in the hill state. He also commands support among the decisive majority of sitting legislators. Most of those who got a ticket this time were also his loyalists.
Union minister JP Nadda is not considered a mass leader and has the reputation of being an organisational man, a role that he will play in the upcoming elections. Nadda on the other hand is one of PM Modi’s most trusted Ministers in the cabinet, whom the Prime Minister wouldn’t want to lose.
Meanwhile, the ruling Congress had announced that it will contest the election in the state under the leadership of incumbent chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who is also the chairman of the party’s campaign committee. By appointing him the campaign committee chief, Congress gave Singh the authority to pick his candidates. Not just Singh, his son Vikramaditya will also be contesting the elections.
The BJP generally contests state elections without a chief ministerial face. But in HP, it had to change its strategy nine day ahead of election and take benefit of Dhumal’s rich administrative experience to win three fourth majority in the assembly. In several Assembly polls since 2014, the party has followed a similar script. It did not announce a chief ministerial face for the Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur. Exceptions were made in Delhi, Goa and Assam. While in Delhi it was to curb infighting, In Goa and Assam, it was because of the strong clout and personality cult of the leaders. Prem Kumar Dhumal’s nomination is on the lines of Assam and Goa.
Prem Kumar Dhumal comes from the dominant Thakur caste who command 28% of the state’s electorate. Party leadership thus has kept the Caste equation strongly to its favor. This might be the most compelling reason behind the last minute change in the strategy.
Despite age factor being against Prem Kumar Dhumal, Recent surveys conducted by party also indicated Dhumal would be the best choice as the chief minister of the State. His projection as CM post will inject enthusiasm among Party Cadres and will certainly help the party win state election with huge margin.