NEW DELHI: In an indication that the BJP is caught in a tough electoral battle in Himachal Pradesh, party chief Amit Shah on Tuesday declared veteran Prem Kumar Dhumal as its chief ministerial nominee in the hill state.
Shah made the announcement at a rally in Solan.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitely, while unveiling the vision document of the party in Shimla on Sunday, had dropped enough hints of the imminent announcement by stating that the most experienced leader would be the chief minister of the state.
With just 10 days left for polling, Dhumal’s nomination is being seen as clear acknowledgement that the faction-ridden saffron outfit has been left with no choice but to back the 73-year-old against incumbent CM Virbhadra Singh; the 83-year-old is playing emotional card to win the state. Dhumal had been CM in 1998 and 2007. Both Dhumal and Singh hail from the electorally-dominant Rajput vote base.
Incidentally, Dhumal’s nomination is in contrast to the informal ceiling of age for official position in the BJP kept at 75, since former Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel was made to resign when she turned 74. Union Ministers Kalraj Mishra and Najma Heptullah had to quit the Union Cabinet after they turned 75.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed Dhumal’s nomination as apt, while adding that he would make for a wonderful CM again due to his rich administrative experience.
Incidentally, the BJP has been caught in faction fighting in the hill state since the last Assembly elections in 2012, with scores of leaders aspiring for the chief ministerial position. Even while BJP veteran Shanta Kumar is in the Margadarshak Mandal of the party, he still enjoys considerable support amongst party workers.
Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare J P Nadda is also known to be nursing the chief ministerial dream. While he doesn’t enjoy mass base in the state, he is close to the BJP chief even while he is the secretary to the most powerful Parliamentary Board of the party.
However, sources in the BJP stated that the age limit may come to apply on Dhumal when he turns 75 and there could be a change of guard in the state in the event the saffron outfits wins the November 9 poll.