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‘Infighting, poor candidate choice’ — BJP pins down reasons for Himachal bypoll debacle

BJP lost all four Himachal Pradesh bypolls held on 30 October, making it the only party-ruled state where it failed to win any seats in the elections.

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New Delhi: Ill-conceived ticket allocations, infighting among leaders, and overconfidence were among the key reasons for the BJP’s defeat in the bypolls held in Himachal Pradesh on 30 October, a party review meeting has found.

The party prepared 12 review reports for the four Himachal seats that held bypolls — the Mandi parliamentary seat, and the assembly constituencies of Arki, Fatehpur and Jubbal-Kotkhai. The candidate, minister-in-charge and mandal adkyaksh (divisional president) from every constituency prepared one report each.

According to BJP sources privy to the reports, the ticket distribution caused resentment among the cadres, while the party also failed to ascertain the extent of popular sympathy for the widow of six-term state chief minister and Congress leader Virbhadra Singh.

The “misallocation” of the Jubbal-Kotkhai assembly seat led to the entire local party organisation revolting in support of a rebel candidate, the sources said, adding that the “inactivity of certain party leaders” in the election was also cited as a factor.

All four elections were triggered by the deaths of the incumbent legislators. Arki and Fatehpur had been held by the Congress, whereas BJP legislators had held Jubbal-Kotkhai and the Lok Sabha seat. The BJP lost in all four, making Himachal Pradesh the only party-ruled state where it failed to win any seats in the bypolls. Moreover, its candidate won just 4 per cent of the vote in Jubbal-Kotkhai.

The state BJP carried out a post-mortem exam of its performance in a series of meetings held in Shimla from 24 to 26 November, analysing the reasons for the defeat.

These reports were discussed at a meeting of the core group, lasting five hours. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, BJP state president Suresh Kashyap, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, and Avinash Rai Khanna, who the party has placed in charge of Himachal affairs, were among those present. They were joined by ministers-in-charge from the state government the next day.

“Several things have come to the fore during this review process that show a complete lack of coordination between the organisation and the government,” Khanna said. “We will have to keep all this in mind. Only then will we be able to win the 2022 election.”

The next state assembly election is scheduled for November 2022.

Also read: Himachal BJP vice-president Kripal Parmar resigns, says party ‘being run like a dictatorship’

‘Wrong candidate, sympathy vote, organisational problems’

A report from Chief Minister Thakur’s own area in Mandi posited the allocation of the ticket to Brigadier Khushal Thakur (Retd) as a reason for losing the Lok Sabha seat. The Kargil veteran had no support base in the region and thus couldn’t ensure a lead even in his home village of Nagwain, sources quoted the report as having said.

If someone from the cadre, similar to the late MP Ramswaroop Sharma, had contested, they could have secured a lead of 10,000-15,000 votes in their own area, according to the report.

Similarly, Govind Singh Thakur, minister-in-charge from Kullu, and Ram Kal Markanda, minister and MLA for Lahaul, were unable to deliver leads in their areas, which fall within the Mandi constituency, the report is learnt to have said.

At the same time, the BJP feels it failed to understand the extent of popular sympathy for Pratibha Singh, the victorious Congress candidate in Mandi. Her husband, former chief minister Virbhadra Singh, had passed away in July (triggering the Arki bypoll). Both husband and wife had been MPs from Mandi several times over the years.

The BJP also faced organisational challenges in the constituency.

In some areas, according to the constituency reports, panna pramukhs (workers in charge of a single page of the electoral roll), and those in charge of booths, failed to turn up to mobilise voters. The mandal adhyaksh’s report said they didn’t get the support needed from corporators in urban areas, while rural workers couldn’t convince the people that the government in power worked for them.

The party organisation was also unable to convey the benefits of various government schemes for the Scheduled Castes, the report concluded.

According to a leader who was at one of the meetings, “The discontent among the workers was about allocating tickets to the wrong candidates, but, more than that, there was a larger disconnect between the government and the organisation.

“Only the chief minister was working hard — the people from the organisation were in deep slumber. This means that ordinary workers were angry with the government. Not everyone was taken along.”

One of the reports mentioned that conflicting statements by senior leaders, and cosying up to the family of Sukh Ram — a veteran Congress leader, former Union minister and former Mandi MP — also affected workers’ morale.

Sukh Ram’s son, BJP MLA for Mandi Anil Sharma — who has been sidelined since his son contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls for the Congress — joined hands with former state minister and Congress leader Kaul Singh Thakur to support the Congress candidate, BJP sources said. According to them, Sharma didn’t campaign for the BJP and “tacitly supported the Congress”.

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

‘Disconnect between party and government, rebellious leaders’

The situation was deemed to be similar in the Arki assembly seat.

According to the internal assessment, the sources said, the party was defeated because it had selected the wrong candidate, because of the official candidate’s inability to communicate with the workers, and because of the absence of former MLA Govind Ram Sharma and zila panchayat member Asha Parihar from the campaign.

Both leaders are influential in the constituency and were opposed to the selection of Rattan Singh Pal as the party’s candidate.

Sharma had wanted the ticket for himself. A BJP leader said, “Had he been allocated a ticket, he could have won the election quite comfortably. But his candidacy was rejected on the basis of recommendations made by Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey and sangathan mantri (BJP general secretary, organisation) Pavan Rana. The rebellious leaders did not campaign in the party’s favour, which ultimately caused our loss.”

Similarly, denying a ticket to former BJP state vice-president Kirpal Parmar — who resigned from his post Tuesday — led to his decision not to support the party. This is seen to have contributed to the defeat in Fatehpur, alongside former BJP MP and MLA Rajan Sushant contesting as an Independent candidate.

A general secretary of the BJP told ThePrint, “There was a lot of resentment in the organisation overall, and we had to pay the price for great anger among our workers, allocating tickets to the wrong candidates, and not taking everyone along. It was like a big alarm bell for us.

“If we don’t manage to overcome the workers’ resentment before the assembly election, our ship is sure to sink.”

The review report will now be sent to the BJP high command. After this, according to the leaders, changes are sure to take place in the state organisation, boards, corporations, and the state cabinet. The high command is in no mood to take this defeat lightly, and knows a few minor changes won’t do the trick, sources said.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: BJP’s ‘all is well’ in the national executive is ignoring key party problems

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