AROUND 10 minutes before noon Monday, a wave of hope rose outside the house of BJP veteran Prem Kumar Dhumal at Samirpur village in Himachal Pradesh’s Hamirpur. Some of his supporters had received a message that the BJP’s chief-ministerial face was leading by over 4,000 votes after nine rounds of counting.
But soon, party workers and Dhumal’s family members realised that the information was wrong. Only seven rounds of counting had got over.
By 3 pm, the packed office at his residence had emptied out, the bittersweet message was clear: The 73-year-old veteran was losing at a time when his party was sweeping the state.
Soon, there was no room left for doubt, or hope. The BJP had claimed 44 of the 68 Assembly seats, and Dhumal had lost in Sujanpur to his former “chela” (follower) turned rival Rajinder Singh Rana of the Congress by around 3,500 votes.
With the verdict more or less final, a few minutes past 4 pm, Dhumal emerged from his room for the first time since morning to meet workers and relatives. With him was wife Sheela Dhumal, brother Room Singh and other members of the family — his sons Anurag Thakur and Arun Thakur were in Hamirpur town, about 20 km away.
As some party workers broke down in tears, Dhumal said, “Keep a large heart, I am fine.” Then, turning to reporters, he said, “There are several reasons for the defeat and I will introspect. I am happy that the party won… my personal loss doesn’t matter.” Crucially, he did not rule himself out of the race for the Chief Minister’s post.
The veteran remained with the workers for about two hours before going back inside. It was a quiet end to a day that began on a tense note when news came at 9.15 am that Dhumal was trailing by around 600 votes. It was also in stark contrast to the day before, when people had gathered outside his home, expecting a big win.
It was a turbulent journey this time for Dhumal, who had won by 8,000 votes in 2012 from Hamirpur after losing his traditional constituency Bamsan in delimitation.This time, the BJP did not initially project a chief-ministerial face, hoping that it would fight in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as it did in Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Haryana and UP. Modi addressed seven rallies in the state. But eventually, the party decided to name Dhumal.
But by Monday evening, all that was left to do was pick up the pieces.
“The party’s leadership played spoilsport by shifting his constituency from Hamirpur to Sujanpur,” said a BJP panchayat leader at Dhumal’s home.
“When you do not share the sorrow and happiness of the cadre, you will have to face this fate,” said a panchayat member.
Others blamed sitting MLA from Sujanpur, Narinder Thakur — he contested from Hamirpur this time — for not taking care of the constituency. “It is a big embarrassment, the people turned out to be ‘beiman (unfaithful)’. They signalled support but voted otherwise,” said a party leader from Hamirpur.
The sense of disappointment was such that Kamlesh Kumari, a first-time winner from Bhoranj, a reserved constituency in Hamirpur district, became emotional. “My victory is of no use now,” she said.