Unlike Narender Modi, who let a disgruntled Keshubhai Patel test the electorate pulse with a new party, in Himachal the marriage of convenience between Prem Kumar Dhumal and party national vice president Shanta Kumar sealed the fate of ‘Mission Repeat’ for BJP.
While the outgoing party held onto its stronghold in many districts, made deep inroads into Congress dominated ones like Chamba and Sirmaur but it was in Kangra, a Shanta Kumar fiefdom, that the saffron party suffered a body blow and suffered defeat.
“More of less the party had overcome anti-incumbency,” said a senior BJP functionary, “but it was factionalism and lack of leadership initiative that cost us dear.”
He pointed out that had four of the ministers who lost the elections retained their seats or had Shanta Kumar stood his ground in Kangra, the party would have succeeded in returning to power for another successive term.
Kangra with 15 electoral seats in its kitty dominates the political landscape of Himachal and Congress won 10 of them; BJP having to be content with just 3, two were secured by independents.
“The ticket distribution in Kangra was at the behest of Shanta Kumar,” said another senior BJP leader, “and all those candidates lost. Rakesh Pathania, otherwise a winning candidate, was denied a BJP ticket simply because he is a Shanta baiter and batted strongly for creation of new districts, something which the senior leader was opposed to.”
Dhumal after tendering his resignation lamented, “wrong candidate selection was one of the main reasons for the party losing.”
With Shanta strongmen Ramesh Dhawala and Kishan Kapoor, who were cabinet ministers in the outgoing government, and others losing, the faction has been completely marginalized, if not wiped out. Other loyalists like Maheshwar Singh, Kushi Ram Balnatah, Mohinder Lal Sofat and Shyama Sharma have left the party.
Another senior leader, who lost the election, held out that had Dhumal not made up with Shanta Kumar before the polls and persisted with fielding winning candidates, mission repeat would have succeeded.
But Dhumal is no Modi who dispensed with Keshubhai Patel when push came to shove before ticket distribution,” he said.