New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has continuously attacked the Congress and other regional parties for their dynastic politics, but now the BJP is grappling with the challenge of sticking to its policy of ‘one family, one ticket’ while also keeping political families happy in Himachal Pradesh, which goes to polls on 12 November.
While the party has been careful to not field more than one member from a family, it seems to have hit upon a compromise formula of sorts. In some instances where it has not given a ticket to a sitting MLA to avoid anti-incumbency, it has offered one to their son, daughter, or wife to prevent rebellion.
The BJP released its first list of 62 candidates on October 19, and the remining six the next day. While the party has accommodated several family members of established leaders, it has not named two-time Himachal chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who is the father of Union minister Anurag Thakur.
“In the hill state, the constituency sizes are small. Last time Prem Kumar Dhumal lost only by 3,000 votes and Suresh Bhardwaj won by less than 1,000 votes. This is why the party has to accommodate the relatives of leaders where we have gotten feedback of anti-incumbency against the sitting MLA,” a vice-president of the Himachal BJP said, asking not to be named.
He added that winnability is the only criteria in an election. “It is not the time for experiments, so in several places family members of the leaders were fielded, but we have held up our rule of ‘one family, one ticket’, unlike Congress.”
Political observers agree that the BJP cannot afford to have powerful political families in a huff.
“No party wants to take the risk of denying a ticket to a dynasty politician because it gives them an edge in winning and politics is only about winning, at any cost,” said Prof Ramesh Kumar of Himachal Pradesh University, adding that creating a perception and implementing it on the ground are two different things.
“Dynasty politics originated in Congress and regional political parties but BJP has adopted it wholeheartedly,” Kumar claimed.
Despite the party’s best efforts to walk the tightrope, however, precarious situations have arisen in some constituencies.
A sticky situation
Two scions of the erstwhile royal family of Kullu have given the BJP some reason to sweat. While the party had initially nominated former state party president Maheshwar Singh from the Kullu Sadar seat, it ended up dropping him earlier this week.
The reason reportedly was that Maheshwar could not convince his son Hiteshwar, who had also hoped for a BJP ticket, to withdraw his nomination as an independent candidate from the Banjar seat. Both father and son then filed their nominations as independent candidates.
Maheshwar Singh finally agreed to withdraw his nomination papers Friday, but not before BJP president J.P Nadda had to step in. Reportedly, a party chopper was sent to Kullu Thursday to bring the patriarch to Shimla for the meeting.
However, it is unlikely that Hiteshwar will follow in his father’s footsteps. His wife Vibha Singh, a Kullu zilla parishad member, met the CM Jairam Thakur on behalf of her husband this week and said that the people of Banjar had waited for Hiteshwar to contest for “13 years” and he will not back down.
Hits and misses for women
Another interesting dynasty contest is going on in the family of state jal shakti minister Mahender Singh Thakur, who is the incumbent legislator from Dharmapur and has won seven elections from the seat.
This time, the BJP has fielded his son Rajat Thakur, which led to a brief rebellion within the family.
When the decision was announced, Mahendra Singh’s daughter Vandana Guleria resigned from her post of general secretary of the BJP Mahila Morcha on October 19 and tweeted — “Parivarvad mein har bar betiyon ki hi bali kyun li jati hai (Why is it that in family politics, it is the daughter that is always sacrificed).” Since then, though, she seems to have come around.
In two other cases, wives have replaced husbands. The BJP has fielded Maya Sharma, wife of former MLA and current BJP district president Baldev Sharma, from Barsar.
Baldev is a three-time MLA but lost the previous two assembly elections. BJP hopes his wife, who was the president of the district BJP Mahila Morcha twice and is currently a member of the Mahila Morcha state executive team, will be able to unseat the Congress sitting MLA, Inder Dutt Lakhanpal.
In the second case, Neelam Nayyar, wife of sitting BJP MLA Pawan Nayyar was given the ticket from Chamba.
The party had initially named Indira Kapoor when the list of candidates was released but changed it to Neelam, reportedly due to fear of revolt from the incumbent MLA and an old corruption case against Kapoor.
Of sons and brothers
One of the most controversial candidates that the BJP is fielding is sitting MLA Anil Sharma, son of the late former Union minister Sukh Ram, from Mandi Sadar. He has held this seat since 2007. Notably, he was with the Congress till a shift of allegiance to the BJP prior to the 2017 assembly elections. He received the ticket despite being marred by allegations of disloyalty.
He had reportedly met Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and reportedly sought a ticket for himself and his son, Aashray Sharma, who quit the Congress earlier this month, for the upcoming polls and decided to stick to the BJP when no assurances came his way.
He was also dropped from the cabinet in 2019 after refusing to campaign for the BJP candidate who was pitted against his son, then a Congress candidate, from Mandi.
Meanwhile, BJP leader Praveen Sharma has filed his nomination from Mandi as an independent candidate, accusing the leadership of promoting family politics against the party’s ideology.
Among the other political scions that the party has nominated is Anil Dhiman, son of the late former education minister Ishwar Dass Dhiman, from Bhoranj.
His father won six assembly elections until his death in 2016. The party denied a ticket to Anil after his father’s death but this time the younger Dhiman threatened to contest independently if the BJP did not field him.
Consequently, sitting MLA Kamesh Kumari was denied a ticket to accommodate him.
Despite his loss in 2017, BJP has reposed faith in Rajesh Kashyap, brother of two-time MP from Shimla, Virendra Kashyap.
Kashyap will once again be battling it out in Solan out against his father-in-law, Dhani Ram Shandil, the incumbent Congress legislator.
In Hamirpur, the party has given the ticket to Narendra Thakur, son of late Thakur Jagdev Chand, five-time MLA.
Govind Singh Thakur, son of former minister Kunj Lal Thakur will be once again contesting from Manali, a seat he has held since 2007.
Chetan Bragta, a former convenor of the BJP IT cell and son of late MLA and former agriculture minister Narinder Bragta has been declared as the candidate from Jubbal-Kotkhai.
This comes after Chetan was expelled last year when he contested as an independent candidate from the seat in a by-election mandated by the death of his father, the sitting MLA. The seat was snatched by the Congress’ own dynast Rohit Thakur.
Chetan Bragta was allegedly denied a ticket last year to dissuade dynasty politics, but this time the BJP seems to have relaxed its stance.
Dynasts galore in Congress list
Pratibha Singh, wife of late CM Virbhadra Singh, is president of the Himachal Congress unit. Their son Vikramaditya Singh, the incumbent MLA from Shimla rural, is contesting again from the constituency.
Rohit Thakur, chief whip in the state government and grandson of veteran Congress leader late Thakur Ram Lal, is contesting from Jubbal-Kotkhai. He won the seat during the by-election in 2021.
Seasoned Congress leader and former health and family welfare minister Kaul Singh Thakur is contesting from Darang and his daughter Champa Thakur will, once again, go up against Anil Sharma in Mandi Sadar.
Congress has fielded numerous other candidates from political families too, including Ajay Mahajan from Nurpur (son of late Sat Mahajan), Bhawani Pathania from Fatehpur (son of late Sujan Singh Pathania), Raghuveer Bali from Nagrota Bagwan (son of late G.S. Bali), Sudhir Sharma from Dharamshala (son of late Pandit Santram), Ashish Butail from Palampur (son of BBL Butail), Ram Kumar Chaudhary from Doon (son of late Lajja Ram), Vinod Sultanpuri from Kasauli (son of late KD Sultanpuri), Harshvardhan Chauhan from Shillai (son of Guman Singh Chauhan), Yadvinder Goma from Jaisinghpur (son of Milkhi Ram Goma), and Vinay Kumar from Renuka (son of Dr Prem Singh).
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)