BJP MLA Jairam Thakur is emerging as the “key” face in the race for picking a chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh, with the party expected to take a final call after a meeting of the newly-elected MLAs with the central observers.
A senior party leader said that Thakur has “suitable credentials” for the post as he has been a member of ABVP, the student wing affiliated to BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
He said Thakur has been BJP state unit chief, a state Minister and has been elected five times as an MLA. Another factor in his favour is that the party will not need to go through a by-election if he is chosen.
Sources said that central observers - Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Narendra Singh Tomar - are expected to speak to BJP MLAs individually to ascertain their views and then convey these to the party’s central leadership.
While Thakur is the key face in the chief ministerial race, other names doing the rounds are of Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda and party MLA Rajeev Bindal. The name of defeated chief ministerial face Prem Kumar Dhumal has not been ruled out either.
If the party chooses either Nadda or Dhumal as Chief Minister, they will have to get elected as legislators in six months, and it will entail a sitting MLA vacating his seat.
Nadda’s name had been doing the rounds even before the elections but his going to Himachal Pradesh as Chief Minister will create a vacancy in the Union Cabinet.
The BJP also has to weigh the caste equations in the hill state before it makes a final choice, keeping in mind the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Nadda is a Brahmin and the community is numerically less than the Rajputs. The last BJP Chief Minister from the Brahim community was Shanta Kumar (1990-1992).
But the BJP also has to weigh various factors in terms of national politics. It already has Chief Ministers from the Rajput community including Yogi Adityanath and Trivendra Singh Rawat.
Party leaders said that central observers are expected to visit Shimla later this week to ascertain the views of MLAs. The name of the Chief Minister is likely to be announced after a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board.
Jairam Thakur won from Seraj constituency by defeating Chet Ram of the Congress.
Dhumal’s name was announced as the party’s chief ministerial candidate midway through the election campaign in the state.
Dhumal, who had won the last election from Hamirpur constituency, had reservations over contesting from Sujanpur. But the BJP central leadership asked him to contest from there, and he faced defeat against close rival Rajinder Rana of the Congress. Rana was once the “election manager” of Dhumal and knows his family well. Rana defeated the two-time Chief Minister by a slender margin of 1,919 votes.
BJP MLA Virender Kanwar, who won from Kutlehar seat, has offered to resign from his seat for Dhumal.
The BJP won a near two-third majority in Himachal Pradesh.
In Gujarat, Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel are widely expected to continue as Gujarat’s Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister after the BJP retained power in keenly fought elections, but some others are said to be eyeing the top post.