Will Dhumal Catapult BJP to Victory or will Virbhadra Return for a Record 7th term in Himachal?

BJP’S national leadership has shunned past precedence of not declaring their CM nominee until the elections are over by nominating their CM candidate just eight days before the elections, amidst a tug of war between Union Minister J P Nadda & ex-CM Dhumal for supremacy in the State.

It was widely believed that Nadda’s closeness with Amit Shah & Prime Minister Modi would assure him of the Chief Ministership once the BJP won the mandate in the State. However, a last minute  assessment by the BJP  central leadership on the political situation in the State & Dhumal’s popularity amongst the masses as compared to Nadda’s, convinced them that it was better to project Dhumal and give him a 2 year tenure at the helm (if the BJP comes to power), given the fact that he is nearing 74, and then ease Nadda into the CM chair.

Another reason for Dhumal’s elevation to the top at this late juncture could be to make him the scapegoat in the eventuality of BJP failing to get a majority.

What ever may be the reason, the fact remains that the BJP central leadership has been forced to reorient its strategy in Himachal of declaring the CM candidate, as in this State elections are mostly fought on local & regional  issues and local and regional leaders have dominated State politics right from the time of Y S Parmar, the first Chief Minister.
Anti incumbency has been a strong factor in State elections and since 1985 no party has been able to repeat its government. If this 32 year trend continues then Dhumal could turn out to be the lucky mascot for the BJP and don the Chief Minister’s chair.
On the the other side of the political pendulum in the State is the old war horse & six time CM of the State, Virbhadra Singh, who is fighting the last & the most important election of his career. The octagenarian CM who is battling corruption charges and is out on bail in a disproportionate assets case has to contend with the full might of the BJP including Prime Minister Modi & BJP President Amit Shah, apart from a host of other leaders who have & are addressing  rallies in the State making Virbhadra their prime target.
The current CM is the lone star campaigner in the State for his party and is addressing 5 to 6 rallies in a day traversing all across the State even as his cabinet colleagues – including the ones who were baying for his blood just a few days back – have been confined to their own constituencies to seek votes. It seems even the Congress High Command has left the onus on Virbhadra to take the party to victory as only Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to address 2 rallies in Chamba & the crucial Kangra district.
The BJP has been gunning for Virbhadra on the corruption issue and ridiculing him for being out on bail while Virbhadra has been playing the victim card and accusing the BJP of unleashing the  central investigate agencies on him & his family.
Both Virbhadra & Dhumal are mass leaders  with one coming from upper Himachal (Shimla district) and the other coming from lower Himachal (Hamirpur district). Shanta Kumar is the only politician from BJP  before Dhumal who has become CM from lower Himachal (Kangra district) albeit for 2 truncated terms unlike Dhumal who has completed both his terms in 1998 & 2007.
Congress is yet to have a CM from lower Himachal & with the 83 year old  Virbhadra seeking a record 7th  term it will be a while before Congress has a Chief Minister from the lower belt.
It is pertinent to note that Himachal politics & Himachali politicians are known by their caps, with the red Himachali cap synonymous with the BJP & the green Himachali cap being associated with the Congress. It would be interesting to see which topi  (cap)  is given the nod by the electorate of Himachal. The past record suggests that it’s the turn of the red cap but the Congress & Virbhadra would want that colour to remain green.

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About the Author

Aman Gupta

Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine