Even as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Himachal Pradesh is sitting cool, waiting endlessly for Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s ouster in view of the lurking CBI and Enforcement Direstorate (ED) cases of corruption against him, it is not so comfortable within BJP. Mainly for the transition phase that appears imminent in the BJP in this hill state lately, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi trying to replace the old guards in BJP politics across the country. In Himachal, former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar, who made a spectacular entry into Lok Sabha, gaining lead from all the 17 assembly constituencies in Kangra Parliamentary seat in 2014 polls, was the first one to be sidelined due to age (81) by Modi this time, with the PM putting a cut off of 75 years to become a minister.
Now there is uneasiness in the supporters of leader of opposition, Prem Kumar Dhumal, who would complete 73 years next April, seven months before the assembly polls are slated, as they suspect that the age may prove a hurdle for him in the run up to the chief ministership this time, besides other factors. The talk is already going on in the BJP circles that Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda, who is from Himachal, has already posed a formidable challenge to Dhumal for the top post since he (Nadda) went to the central politics in 2010 and took over plum post of general secretary in the party in Delhi. At that time, Nadda had resigned from the cabinet berth in Himachal for the party and had joined the centre as Rajya Sabha MP.
After the Modi government took over, he was rewarded with Union Health Ministry. Now, Nadda, three times former MLA from Bilaspur, is not only close to the PM, but the party president, Amit Shah, also having a strong base in the organisation right from student days. While this gives him an advantaged platform to eye the top post in Himachal in case BJP make it to the power in the state in 2017 assembly polls, his age is 55 and is the main asset with him. Besides this, the younger leadership in Himachal, including the state BJP president, Satpal Singh Satti, who were earlier closer to Dhumal, have almost drifted away with Nadda getting much prominence in the Centre and the state.
Even the staunch loyalists of Dhumal like former minister, Rajiv Bindal are now seen shifting to Nadda’s coterie as evident from the Union Minister’s welcome in Shimla, when he came for announcement of National Highways in Himachal Pradesh. Shanta, who still has hold key in Kangra (the biggest district) politics, has lent tacit support to Nadda, Although Dhumal is still a very popular leader of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh so far as the common appeal and foothold on ground are concerned and it would be difficult to corner him in the run up to polls, the two times former BJP CM is facing rough weather partly because he had been promoting his son Anurag Thakur (now three times MP) in the party, expecting the youth in the BJP to toe his line.
Somewhere, in some BJP ranks, there has been a content of jealousy for Anurag seeing his quick rise, against many other potential youth leaders, who have to rough it out for years together even to stake claim for the ticket. The mingling of cricket in politics by Anurag, who is now a high profile politician being BCCI chief and is accused of irregularities in Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) headed by him for over 16 years now, has also not won good image for Dhumals, with senior Dhumal himself facing an inquiry into it. “The transition is the rule of nature and it is good that the BJP abides by it,” said a senior party leader, as he refers back to the episode, when Dhumal had taken over the reins from Shanta Kumar in the run up to polls in 1998. Dhumal or Nadda? The BJP rank and file is actually confused at the moment and divided too.
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