Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah on Tuesday said Prem Kumar Dhumal would be the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls. The state is scheduled to vote on November 9.
“Virbharda Singh keeps asking us that under whose leadership the BJP is fighting the elections,” Shah said at a public rally in Himachal Pradesh. “In the whole country, the BJP is fighting under the leadership of Modiji. But if you want to hear under whose leadership the BJP is contesting in Himachal, then I want to make it clear today. Vibhadraji, the BJP is going to fight under Dhumalji’s leadership in Himachal. I want to say that we will fight these 2017 polls in the name of our senior leader Dhumalji. I also want to say that Dhumalji is currently a former chief minister and the leader of the opposition, but after December 18 he will become Himachal’s chief minister.”
The 73-year-old Dhumal is a two-time former chief minister and the leader of the Opposition in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly.
The BJP central leadership had earlier decided to contest the elections without a chief ministerial face. That it has had to change its strategy with polling a mere nine days away has much to do with the Congress putting up a tough challenge, as to curb the rebellion within the BJP ranks. On Monday, the BJP had expelled seven of its party members, including a sitting legislator, for contesting against official party candidates.
Dhumal turns 74 in April, a year short of the BJP’s unofficial cut-off age of 75 for its leaders to retire from ministerial berths. However, Dhumal might continue to be the chief minister till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. His son Anurag Thakur is a two-time Lok Sabha member from Hamirpur. There were speculations the BJP would pick a chief minister after the results. Health Minister J P Nadda was being spoken of as a chief ministerial candidate.
In several Assembly polls since 2014, the party has followed a similar script. It had not announced 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.
The BJP chief’s announcement also comes in the wake of the Congress having already declared 83-year-old Virbhadra Singh, the incumbent chief minister, as its face for the Assembly polls. By appointing him the campaign committee chief, after the veteran pushed the central leadership, the Congress gave Singh the authority to pick his candidates. Not just Singh, his son Vikramaditya will also be contesting the elections.
Like Uttarakhand, caste equations will play a role in Himachal Pradesh, too. In Uttarakhand, the BJP picked Trivendra Singh Rawat, a Rajput, as the chief minister after the results were declared. In Himachal Pradesh, the party was expected to strike a balance by selecting a Brahmin. However, the situation on the ground forced a rethink. Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh
are both Rajputs. With a Rajput consolidation feared in the Congress' favour, the BJP was forced to announce Dhumal as its chief ministerial face. BJP's Shanta Kumar has been the only Brahmin chief minister of the state.
The BJP is also on the brink of breaching its 75-year-old rule. Karnataka is scheduled for Assembly election in May 2018. The BJP state unit chief as well as its chief ministerial face there is B S Yeddyurappa. He turns 75 in February.
In the last couple of years, the 75-year rule has been applied both at the Centre, in dropping ministers from the Union council of ministers, as well as in states like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Najma Heptulla and Kalraj Mishra were dropped from the Cabinet after they turned 75. Similarly, Anandiben Patel was replaced as the Gujarat chief minister and Babulal Gaur dropped from the Madhya Pradesh Cabinet on the basis of the age rule.
The BJP and the Congress have ruled the state alternately for close to three decades. “Dhumal Ji is among our senior-most leaders with rich administrative experience in Himachal. He will once again make a wonderful CM,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi