BJP national president Amit Shah will address a youth rally in Kangra on 22 September; no CM candidate expected to be announced before the polls.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) preparations in the poll-bound state of Himachal Pradesh are set to receive a shot in the arm on 22 September, when its national president Amit Shah visits the state.
The party’s core group held a two-day meeting last Thursday and Friday to finalise the modalities of Shah’s visit, as well as shortlist the first set of candidates. Union minister Thawar Chand Gehlot, who was recently named the party’s election in-charge, chaired the closed-door meeting.
In the current Assembly, the Congress holds 36 of the 68 seats while the BJP holds 26. But the BJP is confident of regaining power after five years of Congress rule, and has been in election mode since April, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a rally in Shimla.
The party has organised a series of Parivartan Yatras and Yuva Aakrosh rallies across the state, and Shah is expected to breathe new life into the campaign with a youth rally in Kangra on 22 September.
Modi the mascot
BJP leaders say the first list of candidates, featuring the most obvious names, is expected to be released soon. However, it is almost clear that the party will go into the polls without a chief ministerial candidate.
“We will be going to the polls keeping Modiji as the centre of our campaign. He is the biggest factor in our favour,” state party president Satpal Singh Satti said.
This is not the first time the BJP is going into an Assembly election banking on Modi – it has used this approach to success in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Haryana.
However, the party is using a different strategy in Gujarat and Karnataka, having already announced its CM faces. Gujarat goes to the polls with Himachal later this year, with Karnataka set to witness elections next year.
The BJP has a whole host of possible CM faces in Himachal Pradesh, but Union health minister and Rajya Sabha MP J.P. Nadda is the odds-on favourite, given his closeness to Modi and Shah.
However, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s claim is equally strong, given the fact that his support base among the masses and BJP legislators is considered much larger than Nadda’s.
Nadda and Dhumal have not been the best of friends. Last month, their differences flared up when Nadda and Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur, the Lok Sabha MP from Hamirpur, had a war of words over the setting up of an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the latter’s constituency.
Another name doing the rounds is that of former CM Shanta Kumar. But what goes against both Kumar and Dhumal is their age – they are 82 and 73 respectively.
Nadda, however, may be hamstrung by his cabinet position – having already lost Manohar Parrikar and Sarbananda Sonowal to the chief ministerships of Goa and Assam respectively, the PM may be reluctant to sacrifice another cabinet member for the states.
Other names mentioned in the conversation are former state BJP president Jairam Thakur, current chief Satti and RSS leader Ajay Jamwal. Some reports have even mentioned actor Anupam Kher, who hails from Shimla.
Sources say if the party gets a big majority, it will entrust the state to a young, energetic leader for not just the next five years, but hopefully for at least two consecutive terms.
Easy win on the cards
Since 1990, power in Himachal has alternated between the Congress and the BJP, and this time around, all signs point to an easy victory for the latter.
In 2014, it won all four Lok Sabha seats, mopping up over 53 per cent of the vote. In April this year, it won the Bhoranj Assembly bypoll, and then, in June, it won 17 of the 34 seats in the Shimla Municipal Corporation polls, just one short of a clear majority.
Other than the Modi factor and anti-incumbency, the BJP is expected to ride on issues like corruption, law and order and lack of good governance by Virbhadra Singh’s Congress government.