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Democracy or ‘negative feedback’? Why BJP held secret ballot to shortlist HP poll contenders

BJP state unit's media in-charge says ballot held as opinion of party workers matters. But senior leader claims it was done after surveys showed many MLAs 'not on strong wicket'.

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New Delhi: The BJP is selecting its candidates for the 12 November Himachal Pradesh assembly elections through a secret ballot involving party functionaries, a first.

The voting exercise took place Sunday for candidates for all 68 assembly constituencies in the state. Office-bearers from the mandal and district levels, divisional office, and functionaries of all frontal organisations of the BJP participated.

In Delhi, a Himachal core group meeting was held Monday, which was attended by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, BJP state president Suresh Kashyap, national vice-president and election in-charge Saudan Singh, and Union Minister Anurag Thakur. The Central Election Committee of the party is likely to meet Tuesday to discuss the secret ballot results and finalise the names of candidates.

According to the BJP’s Himachal unit, the exercise is meant to show that there is democracy within the party and the feedback of each and every worker is important.

“BJP is a party that gives utmost importance to the feedback of its workers. It is a workers’ party and this was evident in the ballot voting that took place Sunday. Right from the mandal-level, all party functionaries participated in the exercise and the ballot boxes were then transported to Shimla,” Rakesh Sharma, media in-charge of the state unit, told ThePrint.

However, a senior BJP leader said that the secret ballot exercise was undertaken after three surveys were conducted (one by the BJP, one by a private firm, and one based on feedback from the BJP’s ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) to choose the candidates most of which received “negative feedback”.

“There was so much confusion about the candidates that the party high command was forced to do something that has never happened before,” the leader told ThePrint, not wanting to be named.

The leader explained that the feedback the party had received from the earlier surveys showed that many sitting MLAs were “not on a strong wicket” while many others might just sail through by a slight margin, which “forced the central leadership to take feedback on candidates from the party functionaries as well”.

“The party on Sunday suddenly conducted ‘secret voting’ for all 68 seats in Himachal,” the leader added.

The BJP is known to replace the majority of its sitting MLAs in state elections.

Another party functionary also said “there was a lot of inconsistency in the results of the three surveys which forced the party to resort to secret ballot”.

According to the senior party leader, a number of workers are upset with the induction of rebel Congress leaders, who are likely to be fielded by the BJP. “Some of the functionaries are quite upset with the current system in which rebel candidates flock to the party just before elections and are successful in getting a ticket too. Many party workers who have toiled for years and are hoping to be fielded have expressed their concerns to the state unit.”

Also read: All-out war in Himachal BJP after bypoll defeats, leaders also blame Nadda & high command

High stakes

The Himachal elections are expected to be a high-stakes battle for the ruling BJP, which had won 44 of the total 68 assembly seats in the hill state in the 2017 polls, while its main rival, the Congress, scored 21.

Himachal being the home state of BJP national president JP Nadda and minister Anurag Thakur, the party faces a prestige battle here, more than anything else.

The people of Himachal have also, since 1985, elected alternate governments to power switching between the Congress and the BJP.

The last time any party won two consecutive terms in the state was the Congress, which did so in the 1982 and 1985 state polls, according to Election Commission records.

This year, Himachal is expected to see a three-cornered fight with the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too throwing its hat in the ring for all 68 seats in the state.

The counting of votes is scheduled for 8 December.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Himachal’s Sukh Ram family, kingmakers in Mandi, keep up party-hopping ‘tradition’ as polls near

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