New Delhi: In a strategic move, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday named former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal as its chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming Himachal Pradesh elections. The move is significant because the decision has been made just ahead of polling which is scheduled to take place on 9 November.
Soon after the announcement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the BJP’s focus is the politics of development: “We want to make Himachal corruption-free and initiate record development initiatives in the state. Dhumal Ji is among our senior most leaders with rich administrative experience in Himachal. He will once again make a wonderful CM."
The two-time chief minister is not only the senior-most BJP leader in the state but is also closely associated with Modi.
“It is a strategic decision which needed to be taken at the right time in the election campaign. Prem Kumar Dhumal is a senior leader of the party and has administrative experience to run the state. He is extremely popular with the BJP cadre and has been an acceptable face in the state," said a senior BJP leader aware of the decision.
The decision to name Dhumal as the chief ministerial candidate comes 13 days after the BJP came out with a list of candidates for the Himachal Pradesh elections. Although BJP leaders have often talked about not allowing people above the age of 75 years to hold public office, senior leaders point out that 73-year-old Dhumal is politically active.
“When compared to sitting chief minister Virbhadra Singh who is 83 years old, Dhumal is much more politically active. A majority of the cadre wanted Dhumal’s name to be announced as the chief ministerial candidate," the BJP leader added.
Justifying the choice, a senior BJP leader said, “Normally BJP doesn’t name a chief ministerial candidate in all the elections. But in the Himachal Pradesh polls, there was a need to name a candidate who has a clean image with no corruption allegations and someone who is popular with the cadre. And Dhumal was the obvious choice."
The upcoming polls in Himachal are crucial because they will see a direct contest between the ruling Congress and BJP. The importance of the assembly polls can also be gauged from the fact that the BJP had won all the four Lok Sabha seats from the state in the 2014 general elections and the party wants to continue its dominance against the Congress in the hill state.
In the 2012 assembly polls which was also a contest between Dhumal, who was then the CM of Himachal Pradesh, and Virbhadra Singh, the Congress won 36 seats with 42.8% vote share while the BJP won 26 seats with 38.4% vote share.
Political analyst feel the announcement of Dhumal as the chief ministerial candidate will enhance the BJP’s prospects. “There was a discussion going on in the state that the BJP is not clear about its CM candidate. The announcement will end all speculation in the cadre and it will work for the benefit of BJP. Dhumal has an over-arching influence in BJP," said Harish K. Thakur, associate professor of political science at Himachal University in Shimla.