Hours before the meeting of BJP legislature party scheduled here for Sunday, the party’s chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal, who lost in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls, announced on Saturday evening his decision to opt out of the race for the CM post. Earlier on Saturday, the BJP scheduled a meeting of its legislature party on Sunday to elect its chief ministerial candidate amid reports that Union Health Minister J P Nadda was re-merging as a strong choice along with front-runner Jairam Thakur, a five-time MLA.
In a signed statement issued on Saturday, Dhumal said he was never in the CM race after his defeat — from Sujanpur constituency. “I had made it amply clear on the day of results that I was not in the CM race. To elect any person as CM is entirely the prerogative of the party’s central leadership,” the former CM said. His supporters and a few sitting MLAs were reportedly pushing for considering Dhumal for the post since he had led the BJP to victory.
Two central BJP observers, Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Narendra Singh Tomar, who were in Shimla for the last two days to hold consultations with the party’s 12-member core group, including Dhumal and sitting MPs, will be back here to oversee the election of the legislature party leader on Sunday.
The party’s chief spokesman in the state, Dr Rajeev Bindal, a five-time MLA, said on Saturday evening that besides the two central leaders, BJP’s Himachal Pradesh in-charge Mangal Pandey will also reach Shimla on Sunday. “A meeting of the newly elected MLAs will be held at 12.30 pm at Hotel Peterhoff. Members of the core group and MPs from Himachal Pradesh will also be present,” Bindal said.
An MLA said Nadda would also come for the Sunday meeting. Nadda moved out of the state in March 2010, when he quit as a minister in the state to take charge as national general secretary of the BJP.
While top party sources said Nadda enjoyed good support in BJP’s core group in Himachal, senior party leader and former CM Shanta Kumar reportedly are of the view that the new CM should be picked from among the new MLAs. “Verdict of the people is clear and we should honour it. No defeated MLA or other than elected one be imposed,” Kumar reportedly told the observers.
Meanwhile, newly elected BJP MLA from Bilaspur, Subash Thakur, a Nadda protege, announced that he would quit his seat for Nadda if the Union minister was picked as the new CM. “It will be an honour and privilege for me to vacate the seat for Nadda- ji,” Thakur said. Nadda is currently a Rajya Sabha member.
Suresh Bhardwaj, a four-time MLA from Shimla and former state BJP president, who is also close to RSS, was also being mentioned as a surprise contender.