Till the counting of votes began in the recently concluded Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, it all seemed like a smooth road ahead for the BJP with pollsters already predicting victory for the party in these two states. Everyone assumed that the already announced chief ministerial faces—Vijay Rupani and Prem Kumar Dhumal for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh respectively—would take the oath of office in a day or two in the respective state capitals -- Gandhinagar and Shimla.
BJP won both the states, but the nature of the verdict has now brought in other contenders for the top executive post in these states compelling Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to review the mandate and accordingly name suitable individuals to lead these states.
Although designated party observers—Arun Jaitley and Saroj Pandey for Gujarat and Nirmala Sitharaman and Narendra Tomar for Himachal Pradesh—will land in Ahmedabad and Shimla on Thursday and Friday respectively, none in the party rank and file was quite sure who would be the next chief minister in these states. They too are speculating on probable names and finally conclude, "Only the top two (Modi and Shah) know the names of the chosen persons and the same would be passed off to the lead observer at an appropriate time during the process of consultation with the MLAs or after the consultation process is over."
First, let us consider the scenario in Gujarat.
Vijay Rupani, the incumbent Gujarat chief minister and the chief ministerial face of BJP won his own election handsomely with a margin of 55,000 votes. It should have thus been natural for the party to announce the date and time of his swearing-in, depending on the availability of the top leaders and favourable astrological alignments, but the BJP parliamentary board which met under the chairmanship of Modi and Shah has not given the nod so far. The parliamentary board is the highest decision making body of the BJP.
This has opened up up the race for the chief minister’s post in Gujarat and Rupani is still in the reckoning. What goes in his favour is that his government was broadly on track while he was at the helm. He was non-controversial, caste-neutral and accessible to party workers and others. He not only won his seat comfortably but the BJP also won all the four seats in the Rajkot city area (increasing the tally from three to four) and winning six out of the eight seats in the district.
However, under the changed circumstances when Gujarat is back to a situation when caste factors have become important, new social coalitions and contradictions have emerged and have reflected on the results, Rupani in the eyes of Modi-Shah may not be the best choice to lead the state. Though the BJP won the election, six of its ministers and the Assembly Speaker lost their respective contests. With new caste equations coming to the fore, Modi and Shah will have to weigh their options before zeroing in on an individual. Party leaders also refer to Modi's thanksgiving speech at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Monday where he gave vent to his thoughts about the state and its leadership.
Two other names are being taken as an alternative to Rupani -- Purshottam Rupala and Mansukh L Mandaviya. Both are ministers of state in the Union government. So far they have been in the ranks of unsung ministers at the Centre. Both are Rajya Sabha members and their term expires in February next year. Rupala is Karva Patel and Mandaviya is Leuva Patel. State party leaders say Rupala has good organisational and administrative ability. Mandaviya too has risen from the ranks. The importance of Patel or Patidar factor has been discussed in detail during and after the conclusion of the election.
For various reasons elevation of outgoing deputy chief minister Nitin Patel to the post of the chief minister is ruled out, at least for now.
Now, let us turn our attention to Himachal Pradesh.
Prem Kumar Dhumal, the two-time chief minister of Himachal Pradesh will go down in history as one whose political career ended on a most bizarre note. The party won the state magnificently but Dhumal himself lost the election. Dhumal, his family and close associates would now turn into strong believers in destiny and fate. And so would the person who becomes the next chief minister.
Incidentally, some other senior leaders who could otherwise have been in the reckoning for the top post in the state—Satpal Satti Ravinder Ravi, Gulab Singh Thakur and Maheshwar Singh—too lost their elections.
In this changed scenario former minister and five-time MLA from Seraj in Mandi district, Jai Ram Thakur has emerged as a frontrunner to be the new chief minister of the hill state. Thakur comes from a strong RSS background and has a non-controversial past. After the declaration of the results, he was summoned to New Delhi by the leadership, a move which made many believe that he could be the choice of Modi-Shah to lead the state.
Union Health Minister JP Nadda too is a strong contender. Politically he had been at loggerheads with Dhumal. Party leaders from the state say that it was Nadda who was instrumental in convincing Dhumal to shift to Sujanpur from his old Hamirpur constituency. This was a move which pulled the curtains on 73-year old’s otherwise distinguished political career. The other question is whether Modi-Shah would like to spare Nadda from the Union government. Nadda is a Rajya Sabha MP and if chosen for the chief minister's post of Himachal Pradesh one of the MLAs will have to vacate the seat to make him contest for the Assembly.
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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2017 18:16:46 IST