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With ‘unknown’ faces in the mix, BJP to pick CM

There are, however, two other strong contenders who are staking claim to the top post on the same criteria.

Written by MUKESH BHARDWAJ | Chandigarh |
October 19, 2014 11:34:11 pm

Having achieved the primary task of garnering a majority in Haryana, the BJP now has to pick a candidate for the chief minister’s chair. With a plethora of leaders — virtually unknown outside the state — to choose from, the BJP high command is keeping its cards close to its chest.

While it is for the party’s parliamentary board to make that choice, hectic lobbying has already begun. State BJP chief, Ram Bilas Sharma, who is among the front runners, met senior party leaders in Delhi late on Saturday evening, to stake his claim. Sharma, a Brahmin, who has served as a minister — first with former chief minister Bansi Lal and then with Om Prakash Chautala government — has registered a convincing victory in his native constituency of Mahendergarh, where he had been losing elections since 1996. His last election victory was in 1996 when the BJP had an alliance with the Bansi Lal-led Haryana Vikas Party (HVP).  His current victory, by a margin of 34,491 votes, has ended a two-decade long drought in his political career. He is staking his claim on the basis of being the non-Jat face of the party.

There are, however, two other strong contenders who are staking claim to the top post on the same criteria. Among them is Manohar Lal Khattar, who won by a whopping 62,773 votes at Karnal despite the local leadership having opposed as he was ‘an outsider’. He was even opposed by Karnal MP Ashwani Chopra. Khattar, a former RSS activist, has 40 years of experience in public service. He is the only candidate with direct RSS backing and is known for his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He, however, has no experience in administration.

The other non-Jat in the race is Anil Vij, the leader of the BJP Legislative Party. He has been in the Assembly for the past two terms of the Congress government. He has won by a margin of 15,462 votes at Ambala Cantt constituency. Straightforward and outspoken, Vij was the first to suggest breaking off ties with Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) chief Kuldeep Bishnoi, following the latter’s defeat in Hisar.

Then there is the Jat question in the state dominated by the community. In a departure from tradition, the BJP fielded 27 Jat candidates in these elections and welcomed veteran Congress leader Birender Singh to its fold, moves that suggested that the party was finally warming up to the dominant community in the state. It led to strong belief that the party may even pick a Jat CM.

While Birender was expected to be the frontrunner in such a scenario, two other such aspirants for the CM post have emerged from within the organisation. Among them is Captain Abhimanyu, the party’s national spokesperson.  He was caught in a tough battle at Narnaund assembly constituency but finally won by a margin of 5,883 votes. His opponents, however, cite his history of losing elections and the fact that the party already has two union ministers from the southern part of the state as things that work against him. It is also his first time in the Assembly.

The other Jat leader in the reckoning is Om Prakash Dhankar, known for his close proximity to Modi. While won by a margin of 9,266 votes, Dhankar had lost the Lok Sabha elections in the midst of the Modi wave.

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