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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

BJP retains many old faces in 68-member list of candidates for Himachal polls

Former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Himachal Pradesh BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti are among the party candidates who have been given a ticket to contest the assembly elections.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2017 20:59 IST
Gaurav Bisht and Naresh Thakur
Gaurav Bisht and Naresh Thakur
Hindustan Times, Shimla
BJP president Amit Shah with Union health minister JP Nadda, senior leaders Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal and Himachal Pradesh BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti at the party’s “Yuva Hunkar Rally” at Kangra near Dharamsala.
BJP president Amit Shah with Union health minister JP Nadda, senior leaders Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal and Himachal Pradesh BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti at the party’s “Yuva Hunkar Rally” at Kangra near Dharamsala.(PTI File)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released a list of 68 candidates, consisting mostly of old faces, for the Himachal Pradesh assembly polls on Wednesday.

The saffron party, which lost the 2012 elections due to infighting, reportedly faced an uphill task in selecting candidates as influential leaders demanded tickets for their loyalists till the very last moment. Though it had initially planned to select nominees based on a survey meant to determine the “winnability” of candidates, the plan was derailed at the final stage due to lack of consensus among state leaders.

The party had held a series of studies in this regard, and national president Amit Shah also visited the state on several occasions to assess the situation.

Though the state BJP retained a majority of its old legislators, it did not go by the recommendations of party vanguard Shanta Kumar – barring a few in Kangra district – to a large extent. The party opted for state Mahila Morcha chief Indu Goswami over Shanta loyalist Praveen Sharma, who had won the 2008 assembly elections.

However, the party accommodated two of the veteran leader’s other loyalists – Kishan Kapoor and Ramesh Dhawala – to placate him. The BJP’s act of holding back its list till the last moment, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national president Amit Shah meeting state leaders in Delhi to finalise the names, also added to the confusion.

The BJP cleared the names of 51 candidates in the first go, but struggled to finalise other names. The party reportedly delayed the list for fear of a rebellion during the elections, and Shah personally engaged with senior leaders like Shanta Kumar, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Hamirpur MP Anurag Thakur to ensure that there’s no such occurrence.

Dhumal is also upset over not getting an upper hand in ticket allocation. The party’s attempt to decimate Shanta Kumar could further add to its woes in the state’s most significant district – Kangra – which has 15 assembly segments.

However, Union health minister Jagat Parkash Nadda was able to get a few tickets for his loyalists. The BJP has largely allocated tickets on the basis of feedback from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and right wing students’ organisation, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

Old candidates retained

The party has preferred to retain old faces – sitting legislators as well as candidates who lost the 2012 elections by a whisker. The BJP has a strength of 29 in the 68-member legislative assembly. The party has given tickets to 26 sitting legislators this time, replacing BK Chauhan in Chamba, Govind Ram in Arki and Anil Dhiman in Bhoranj. The party also decided to give tickets to 26 old faces who lost the 2012 elections.

No chief ministerial face

With Dhumal and Nadda still at each other’s throats, the BJP believed it would only be prudent to not declare the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the run-up to the elections. It will fight the polls faceless, as was done during the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Modi’s push for women

The state BJP had to rework its list of candidates after Modi expressed displeasure over its failure to project sufficient female faces. Though the list of candidates had sitting Shahpur MLA Sarveen Chaudhary and Rita Dhiman from Indora, the Prime Minister demanded that at least 10 women candidates be fielded this time. This resulted in the inclusion of Shashi Bala, Jyoti Sen, Indu Goswami and Kamlesh Kumari into the list. Sen, a close relative of chief minister Virbhadra Singh, had joined the BJP only recently.

In 2012, the party had allotted tickets to six women

Mission ‘Congress breach’ unsuccessful

Hoping to repeat its Uttarakhand strategy of wooing Congress members, the BJP successfully lured animal husbandry minister Anil Sharma and his father, veteran leader Sukh Ram, into the saffron fold. However, the party failed to notch any further wins.

Nevertheless, speculation is rife that three to four sitting legislators may still shift allegiance to the BJP. Balbir Verma, an independent, has already crossed over.

Caste and youth factors

Barring 17 reserved constituencies, a majority of the candidates in the list are from the dominant upper castes (Brahmins and Rajputs). However, the party kept Kangra district’s caste factor in mind while picking Sarveen Chaudhary and Ramesh Dhawala – both belonging to the backward caste.

Incidentally, a majority of the dozen youths who were granted tickets this time round were members of the ABVP.

First Published: Oct 18, 2017 17:44 IST