Ahead of MC polls in Himachal, BJP attempts to mend fences with Dhumal
In the run up to municipal corporation elections in Dharamshala, Solan, Mandi and Palampur, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has started reaching out to hitherto sidelined leaders, including former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his supporters.
Political pandits attribute this change in strategy to the party’s performance in the recently concluded Panchayati Raj Institution (PRIs) elections, particularly the Zila Parishad polls, where the party had struggled to form councils although it was ultimately able to get BJP-backed chairpersons elected in 10 of the 12 districts in the state.
Recently, Avinash Rai Khanna, who is the BJP in-charge of Himachal, held a closed-door meeting with the former chief minister and his son Union minister of state for finance and corporate affairs Anurag Thakur at their native place in Samirpur.
It is learnt that they discussed the political scenario in the state and at the Centre. Dhumal and Thakur also apprised him of the treatment meted out to them and their supporters during the tenure of the chief minister Jai Ram Thakur-led government. Dhumal and his supporters are allegedly displeased with the repeated attempts being made by the government to undermine them, especially at a time when the BJP has absolute majority in the Vidhan Sabha.
Asked about the party’s overtures to Dhumal, Khanna said, “His (Dhumal’s) contribution to the party cannot be ignored. He has been chief minister twice and is a popular leader. We discussed our future strategy and plans for the party.”
“Dhumalji is veteran leader. He was invited to the BJP’s executive in Dharamshala and he addressed workers in separate session after a long time,” said Khanna.
The septuagenarian, who has been a farmer and an English teacher at a private college, is seen as the common man’s representative. He has helmed the state from March 1998 to 2003, when he had headed the Himachal Vikas Congress-BJP coalition and again from January 2008 to 2013. Dhumal’s easy availability and amiable nature made him popular among the masses.
In 2017, Dhumal, a chief minister designate, had been defeated from Sujanpur by his one-time confidante turned rival Rajender Rana. At 76, Dhumal still wields influence over the state and a substantial number of his supporters have made it to the Vidhan Sabha.
Over a dozen leaders from Dhumal’s camp had lost the 2017 assembly polls, among them were former ministers Ravinder Singh Ravi, Gulab Singh Thakur, former Rajya Sabha member Kripal Parmar, Randhir Sharma and Sanjay Chaudhary.
Khanna had also recently met Dhumal’s close confidante Ravinder Singh Ravi. Ravi is a former five-time legislator. He was elected for four consecutive terms from the Thural assembly segment. Ravi shifted his base to Dehra in 2012 after his home constituency was reserved in a delimitation exercise. “ I have apprised Khannaji about the issues we faced” said Ravi, who was embroiled in a controversy after a letter alleging corruption in the state government had been widely shared on social media in November 2019.
The letter, addressed to veteran leader Shanta Kumar, raised serious allegations of corruption in the health and industry department and questioned the former chief minister’s silence on the issue.