Shimla: A rousing reception by party stalwarts and workers, complete with traditional hill drum beats and blowing of karnal trumpets for JP Nadda, the union minister, who was here on a official visit, by all indications has signalled that a power shift is taking place in Himachal BJP.
Maintaining the official stand, party spokesman Rajeev Bindal let Hill Post know that nothing much should be read into the party’s reception of the minister.
“Naddaji is a union cabinet minister and it is normal for party workers and leaders to greet him with enthusiasm whenever he visits the state,” said Bindal.
By all accounts of media persons who have been attending media briefings by the cabinet minister earlier also, a marked difference was noticed at today’s conference.
Starting from just one high chair for the minister and all others being ordinary ones at the octagonal conference table, to several MLA’s, two MP’s, several former ministers and many ticket aspirants for the assembly election due next year in attendance, the confident cabinet minister in the Modi government, without saying as much, demonstrated a change in the pecking order.
State party president Satpal Satti, who arrived late for the conference, completed the strength show.
In silent tones and on conditions of not being quoted, many leaders confided that without the active support of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, a bid to wrest power from Congress in the state under a new leader would be a uphill task.
“The equation’s may be changing in the party leadership, but on the ground Dhumalji is still a strong leader who has support across the state,” said one senior leader who has shifted to the Nadda camp.
At the press conference, Nadda stuck to official business, despite much provocation from the media.
“About politics I will speak another day, from another platform. Today it is all about development as the state has a unique opportunity to gain any amount of central funds for roads and the health sector as they want,” said Nadda brushing aside questions about him being in the fray to lead the party in the next assembly election.
Himachal Pradesh has a paucity of fresh leaders who have dared to challenge the old guard. The last time it happened was in the BJP in 1997-98, and the then party general secretary incharge of the state was Narendra Modi.
Backed by Modi, Prem Kumar Dhumal, then a member of parliament, had successfully challenged stalwart Shanta Kumar, a founder member of BJP, to lead the party as well as did wrest power from a well entrenched Congress, whose leader Virbhadra Singh attempted to take advantage of the Dhumal-Shanta Kumar feud by calling for a mid-term poll.
In Congress, the party has seen no change of state leadership since 1983 when Virbhadra Singh, then a state minister in the union cabinet of Indira Gandhi, was para-dropped as the party leader in Himachal Pradesh, after incumbent Ram Lal Thakur found himself in controversy about a timber smuggling scam and was asked to step down.
Several congressmen, over the decades, have attempted to challenge the leadership of Virbhadra Singh but have failed.
Nearing his 6th term in office as chief minister, the shrewd octogenarian politician has already announced plans to run for a 7th term at the next year polls.
Geographical landscape of the state has changed and expanded much since 1948, when after the merger of 30 odd hill states, Himachal Pradesh came to be established as a political entity.
Merger of Kangra and other hill regions of Punjab in 1966 and a full fledged statehood in 1971 are some other important dates in the states history, but for the period starting from 1948 to 2016, in 68 years there have been only 5 chief minister’s in Himachal Pradesh.
Three of them, Dr YS Parmar, Ramlal Thakur and incumbent Virbhadra Singh from Congress and the other two, Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal from BJP.