Shimla: Bharatiya Janata Party’s Himachal Pradesh veteran and two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who lost to his one-time protege Rajinder Singh Rana of the Congress in the last polls from a new seat, is keen to be in the fray in the year-end assembly polls.
At the age of 78, his firm belief is that he was defeated but is not politically destroyed.
Poll analysts feel three-time Member of Parliament Dhumal, who played a crucial role in forming the BJP government with support from Sukh Ram’s Himachal Vikas Congress in 1998, has decided to give himself yet another chance to taste victory and that too from the turf he was routed from.
As the party registered a handsome win in a House of 68, the party’s chief ministerial candidate Dhumal faced defeat in a straight contest by 1,919 votes in Sujanpur, the seat in his home district of Hamirpur, where he was asked to contest from despite his reluctance as his former ‘poll manager’ and sitting Independent legislator Rana was in the fray on a Congress ticket.
BJP leaders close to Dhumal, the father of Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur, say the former chief minister, who played a crucial role for two decades in strengthening the party after the exit of Shanta Kumar, the first non-Congress chief minister in 1977, should be given an opportunity to re-contest despite his advancing age. They say the voters are emotionally attached to him after his defeat.
‘Dhumal-ji wants to say goodbye to the party honourably, rather than with the blot of defeat on his face. His contribution to the party is unparalleled and he still wields considerable influence in the state. At this age, there should be an opportunity to teach his friend-turned-foe a lesson by defeating him in the same manner in the forthcoming assembly polls,’ a senior BJP leader told IANS on the condition of anonymity.
Without mincing words, the party leader, who was a Cabinet minister in the last term of Dhumal, added, ‘Dhumal-ji has recently conveyed to the party central leadership about his desire to enter the fray, the last in his political career. I hope the leadership will honour his feelings by giving him one more opportunity.’
In the last assembly polls, party insiders say, Dhumal was upset over the party shifting him from his Hamirpur bastion to adjoining Sujanpur. Also just a few days before the polls, the BJP declared him the party’s face for the polls.
Often referred to as ‘sadak wale mukhya mantri’ or the Chief Minister who is credited with building roads, Dhumal helmed the state from 1998 to 2003 and from 2008 to 2012.
Of late, Dhumal has become active in the state politics by participating in public meetings, largely in his nurtured Sujanpur constituency.
‘In politics one faces a defeat while another faces a win. It will be a failure on our part not to be able to give justice to the people (of Sujanpur). It’s time for introspection,’ an emotional Dhumal had said after being defeated by a slender margin of 3,500 votes.
In political circles, Dhumal’s sudden aggressive posture and participation in political activities are also seen in the backdrop of the deliberate sidelining of his close aides Ravinder Kumar Ravi and his MP son Anurag Thakur’s father-in-law Gulab Singh Thakur, who too lost their last elections.
An indication of Dhumal’s jumping into the fray came when MP Indu Goswami announced last week while addressing the BJP Mahila Morcha that women should unite for the victory of Dhumal.
‘The women should ensure former Chief Minister Dhumal wins with a huge margin in the assembly elections, this is my appeal,’ she said in the presence of the two-time Chief Minister.
Dhumal’s popularity and influence can be gauged from the fact that in all the Lok Sabha polls fought by his son he was seen aggressively touring in his Hamirpur constituency to ensure his smooth return.
Since his maiden victory in the parliamentary by-election in May 2008, the image of Anurag Thakur is of a busy politician and cricket administrator who is rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty all the time.
For this reason, Dhumal is devoting his maximum time and energy in the constituency only to ensure his son’s victory, a senior BJP leader admits.
In the run-up to the elections, the political weather in Himachal Pradesh, it seems, is a little rough for the lotus to bloom — at least for the time being.
As the silent rebels within the BJP continue to prick, the task also appears to be uphill for the main rival Congress, which is largely banking on a trend to sweep the polls as both the Congress and the BJP ruled the state alternatively from 1985.
Political observers say though the ruling BJP, which believes the forthcoming assembly polls is a semi-final ahead of the final of the 2024 parliamentary polls, has somehow managed an edge over its seemingly ‘faction-ridden’ rival by signalling about its chief ministerial candidate well ahead of the year-end assembly polls. The Congress is still a ‘divided house’ in the absence of a mass leader like the late Virbhadra Singh, who had devoted over 50 years to the common man.
Sensing a threat from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) after its emphatic win in neighbouring Punjab, Bharatiya Janata Party chief J.P. Nadda, who has his roots in Himachal Pradesh, in April announced that the party will not replace Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and the assembly elections will be contested under his leadership.
But a strong anti-incumbency wave against the ruling BJP is evident from the loss of three assembly seats and one parliamentary seat in the October 2021 by-polls.
Political observers believe the re-entry of Dhumal, popular among his supporters for his amiable nature, in the political landscape at this stage when the party is facing anti-incumbency and a challenge from the AAP will ensure the BJP’s easy return in the state.
A seasoned journalist with over two decades of experience, Vishal writes on a wide range of subjects which include biodiversity, climate change and links between environment & development. He also covers politics and other developments in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. He lives in Chandigarh & Shimla.