Breaking the biggest political myth in twin states of UP and Uttarakhand, India’s ruling party– Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has romped home with a splendid victory in the just ended state assembly elections.
What comes next is BJP’s ‘Mission Repeat’ in adjoining hill state of Himachal Pradesh ,which goes to the polls by this year's end, precisely November-December 2022 along with Gujarat –Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state .
As Modi has already hit the ground running in Gujarat ,seen as a soft start to BJP’s election campaign ,Himachal Pradesh can’t wait anymore to miss the opportunity to cash dividends following its stellar performance ,admits a party strategist in Shimla.
Just a day after the election results in five states – UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab , Goa and Manipur–BJP summoned state’s Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to Delhi to discuss the party's ground strategy for the state . The focus was intense for as in UP, the party is determined to win a second term in office. The agenda of rapid development will also remain the tagline in Himachal—something which paid huge dividends in UP.
“BJP government in Himachal Pradesh will only be replaced by the BJP .Despite Covid pandemic—a situation which none of my predecessors faced in their times, we did not allow the development to be stopped. All welfare schemes of the centre like free ration, LPG cylinder, Health insurance and housing scheme has a huge impact”, says Chief Minister
Jai Ram Thakur. Thakur, 57, was made state’s Chief Minister in 2017, after the BJP returned to power with a massive mandate in the 68-member assembly , winning 44 seats as the Congress, which fought elections with veteran six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh ,was reduced to a paltry 21 .
Hon`ble Chief Minister Shri Jai Ram Thakur today inaugurated ‘B-Block in Rajkiya Kanya Maha Vidyalaya (RKMV) Shimla constructed by spending an amount of Rs. 6 crore. pic.twitter.com/60ZvnOP08C
— IPR, Himachal (@dprhp) March 14, 2022
The 87-year old Virbhadra Singh—one of the old Congress stalwarts in the country, died last year ,leaving a huge political vacuum in the state, where he remained BJP’s biggest challenge in every poll whenever the party was in power.
Thus, one of the advantages which the BJP enjoys under Thakur is the absence of any potential Congress leader with a mass appeal to campaign and hold fort for the grand old opposition party. The blow which the congress has suffered in Punjab—where AAP has recorded a stunning victory, Uttarakhand ,Goa and Manipur, has further demoralised the party ranks in Himachal Pradesh.
Jai Ram Thakur’s rise
In 2017, the BJP had projected two-time Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who was Leader of Opposition (LoP) as party’s Chief Ministerial candidate. He was a natural choice over another CM post aspirant J P Nadda, now national BJP president ,who hails from Himachal Pradesh .
But , Dhumal lost his assembly from Sujanpur constituency of Hamirpur ,where he contested, shifting for the first time from his earlier constituency in the district.
The BJP’s choice after Dhumal’s loss fell on Jai Ram Thakur and his rise to the Chief Ministerial post ,as opposition claim, was just ‘accidental’ . Yet it was significant in view of the generational change in the party –a shift away from veterans like Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal .
— BJP (@BJP4India) January 25, 2021
Under Thakur ,the BJP won four Lok Sabha polls in 2019 with record margins, and retained two state assembly by-polls. But thereafter, the party suffered few big blows in 2021, losing four grassroots elections. Most embarrassing was defeat in the Mandi Lok Sabha by-election—a seat won by Pratibha Singh, wife of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh .
Mandi being Thakur’s home district did create consternation in the party. Few viewed it as a result of growing anti-incumbency, drop in Chief Minister’s popularity in Mandi and his lack-lustre governance .Fingers were also pointed at sitting MLAs and cabinet ministers failing to deliver, or their lack of connect with masses .The opposition Congress saw a ray of hope for its revival on ground.
Obviously, the Chief Minister found himself under strenuous pressure to recover his ground, though he maintained that Pratibha Singh victory was a flash in the pan, riding on the sympathy factor generated by the late Chief Minister’s demise.
“ Now, we can see things have changed a lot .Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Mandi and launched new projects worth Rs 11,000 cr. and also remained present at the second ground breaking ceremony of global investments worth Rs 28,000 cr . I have now invited Modi ji to inaugurate AIIMS ,Bilaspur in June –July 2022” said on Sunday.
BJP build-up for next poll
On the organisational front, the BJP held a day-long brain –storming session in Shimla for the upcoming polls and chalked out at least two dozen programmes for next six months in run-up to the polls .
There are going to be separate sessions of the top party leaders for four parliamentary constituencies–Hamirpur, Kangra, Mandi and Shimla (SC) from March 21 to 24. Besides a separate session devoted to preparations for the next Shimla Municipal Corporation elections will also be held.
BJP national vice-president Saudan Singh, state-in-charge and co-in charge Avinash Rai Khanna and Sanjay Tandon, state party chief Suresh Kashyap and organising Secretary Pawan Rana will attend all sessions.
Unlike the BJP which is in pole position, the deflated Congress, is still not sure as to who will lead the party to the polls and from where it will generate the resources to match the BJP.
Yet, says leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri that " the BJP is on its way -out irrespective of tall claims of Chief Minister . He (Thakur) knows he will not be there after December 2022 .The Chief Minister has wasted four -years harping on double-engine narrative .Not a single penny has been given as a special development grant to Himachal Pradesh by Prime Minister Modi. State's debt is going to cross Rs 70,000 cr. by March 31.This is only contribution of Jai Ram Thakur for Himachalis"
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also looking for green pastures in Himachal Pradesh after winning Punjab. But the party, driven by Arvind Kejriwal’s personality cult, and lacking a credible face, is likely to meet similar fate as Uttarakhand, another hill state where it came out cropper.