Former Chief Minister and opposition leader Prem Kumar Dhumal will be contesting the November 9 Himachal Pradesh elections from Sujanpur instead of his current assembly constituency of Hamirpur. Narendra Thakur, son of late BJP leader Jagdev Chand, will swap seats with him.
The BJP Central Election Committee (CEC) announced a list of 68 candidates on Wednesday for the upcoming polls, with 15 new faces and six women. The BJP has tried to do the balancing act, giving due prominence to Dhumal supporters as well as accommodating some staunch loyalists of party veteran Shanta Kumar.
Union Health Minister J P Nadda, who is also the secretary of the CEC, announced the list after holding separate meetings with Dhumal at Sujanpur and Shanta Kumar in Palampur. His visits were aimed to resolve infighting among the party veterans on contentious seats. Kangra and former Congress leader Gurmukh Singh Bali, who was the transport minister in the Virbhadra Singh government, also found his name in the list.
Nadda’s damage control exercise proved rewarding for some, like former minister Krishan Kapoor, a Gaddi leader, who earlier did not figure in the draft list. State Mahila Morcha president Indu Goswami has been fielded from Palampur despite voices of dissent against her. Goswami is understood to have strong backing from the BJP high command, including party president Amit Shah.
However, the biggest surprise was the naming of Pramod Sharma, an university professor and a loyalist of Virbhadra Singh, to challenge the Chief Minister’s son Vikramaditya Singh from Shimla (Rural). The CM had vacated the seat for Vikramaditya, called ‘Tikka Sahib’, who is set to appear in his maiden election. Earlier, the name of Veena Thakur was doing the rounds for Shimla (Rural), but Sharma emerged as the party’s choice.
The list has six women candidates, including Shraveen Chaudahry, a two-time Cabinet minister, who belongs to the OBC community. Vijay Jyoti Sen, sister-in-law of Pratibha Singh, wife of Virbhadra Singh, is the BJP candidate from Kasumpati in Shimla town.
Twenty six sitting MLAs, including Anil Sharma, who had quit the Congress last week, and independent MLA Balbir Verma have retained their constituencies. Sharma, son of senior Congress leader and Virbhadra Singh’s arch rival Pt Sukh Ram, will contest from Mandi. Verma, who had initially supported the Congress but later switched to the BJP upon Dhumal’s insistence, will represent Chopal.
Four sitting MLAs – Govind Ram Sharma (Arki), Rikhi Ram Koundal ( Janduta), Dr Anil Dhiman (Bhoranj) and B K Chauhan (Chamba) – were denied tickets. Prominent new comers included J R Katwal, a retired IAS officer, Rajesh Kashyap, a government doctor, Vijay Jyoti Sen, a close relative of the CM’s wife belonging to the royal family of Junga and Shashi Bala.