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‘Delay in naming Himachal CM face to ensure free and fair selection of candidates’

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BJP insiders say party chief Amit Shah wanted to finalise the tickets on the basis of winnability and early announcement could have affected this process.

New Delhi/Chandigarh: BJP chief Amit Shah “deliberately delayed” the announcement of the party’s CM face for Himachal Pradesh to ensure “free and fair” selection of candidates, sources told ThePrint.

Shah on Tuesday named two-time CM Prem Kumar Dhumal as the chief ministerial candidate, nine days before the state goes to polls. Calling it a “strategic move” party insiders said that had the announcement been made earlier, it would have been incumbent on the central leadership to accommodate his recommendations, ignoring the “winnability” factor.

The party leadership had faced similar problems in announcing CM candidates in other states, the sources added.

The BJP top brass is believed to have received positive feedback on Dhumal, a former CM of Himachal. By announcing the name of Dhumal, the party also wanted to dispel rumours that a central leader, ostensibly Union health minister J.P. Nadda, may be imposed on them after the election.

“The party felt that the announcement would boost its campaign further as Dhumal is an acceptable face in the state. In a small state like Himachal, people love to know as to who would be leading them,” a senior leader told ThePrint.

The BJP is banking on 73-year-old Dhumal to lead its campaign in the hill state. The party is aiming not only to come to power but cross the 50 mark in the 68-seat assembly.

Until last week, the BJP seemed to be working on the constant that it is their turn to win Himachal, a state known for voting out any party which has been in power for five years. Confident of a comfortable victory, the party could afford to not play the CM card. But, then the BJP realised that an easy victory in Himachal cannot be taken for granted.

The Congress, despite being on the backfoot on account of anti-incumbency, corruption charges against CM Virbhadra Singh, his failing health and old age is not giving up without a good fight. While the CM himself is speaking at almost half a dozen public meetings a day, the Congress cadre is charged and managing to gather crowds for the meetings.

To the BJP slogan of ‘Jawaab maangega Himachal’, the Congress slogan retorts ‘Jawaab dega Himachal’.

The party’s political mastermind Amit Shah has virtually stationed himself in Himachal for 10 days until the elections and had in the past two days almost crisscrossed the state addressing rallies. He finally made the announcement Tuesday evening at a rally in Rajgarh.

Dhumal, involved in Himachal politics for decades, had been pressing the central leadership that there was a need to announce a CM candidate to counter the Congress move of announcing Virbhadra Singh as its CM face. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had announced 83-year-old Virbhadra Singh’s name at a rally in Chamba almost a month ago. Singh was also made the head of the campaign committee.

With the announcement of the name of Dhumal, a Thakur, BJP also aims to counter Congress’ bid to consolidate Thakur votes since Virbhadra Singh is also a Thakur. In the underlying Thakur-versus-Brahmin caste divide in the state, the former has historically had the upper hand.

Union minister J.P. Nadda, whose name was also doing the rounds until a few days ago, is a Brahmin. He had age on his side unlike Dhumal, who is 73.

Apart from being a Thakur, Dhumal is the only BJP leader considered tall enough to take on six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh. Dhumal has been responsible for BJP’s growth in the state, after bringing it to power in 1998 with some help from Congress rebel and former Union minister Sukh Ram, who was convicted in the country’s first telecom scam. Besides, Dhumal has considerable hold over seats in Una, Kangra and Kullu.

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