In an embarrassment for BJP national president J P Nadda, despite him taking charge personally to pacify rebels in his home district of Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh, many continue to be in the fray. Among them are leaders considered Nadda’s loyalists.
The Bilaspur district has four constituencies, of whom three had been won by the BJP last time, and one by the Congress. Bilaspur Sadar and Jhandutta (SC) seats, where the BJP is seeing rebel candidates, were won by the party by only 6,862 and 5,060 votes, respectively. The third seat, Ghumarawin, had a victory margin of 10,435 votes for the BJP. The Congress won the Shree Naina Deviji seat, but by the narrowest margin of 1,142 votes.
Among the BJP rebels is Subhash Sharma, a Nadda loyalist, who is contesting as an Independent after being denied the ticket from the seat. The BJP has instead fielded Trilok Jamwal, another Nadda loyalist and the political advisor of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur. The sitting MLA from Bilaspur Sadar is the BJP’s Subhash Thakur, also considered a Nadda man, who was denied a ticket this time.
Sharma’s camp argues that, as part of the core committee of the BJP, Jamwal is an organisation man and hence should not have been given a ticket. Plus, he is an “outsider”, being originally from Jhandutta constituency, say Jamwal’s rivals.
BJP Bilaspur mandal president Hans Raj Thakur says the party – including Nadda – tried their best to convince Sharma, a member of the BJP executive, to step down, but failed. Thakur also points out that Sharma has not bothered visiting Bilaspur Sadar in the past four years.
Incidentally, while the Congress too faced the prospect of a rebel candidate in Bilaspur Sadar, former MLA Tilak Raj, the latter eventually agreed to make way for Bumber Thakur. A loyalist of the late Congress strongman Virbhadra Singh, Bumber had lost from the seat in 2017.
Another BJP rebel who continues in the fray is Raj Kumar Kaundal, the son of former party MLA Rikhi Ram Kaundal. He is contesting as an Independent from Jhandutta constituency. Kaundal’s son Utkarsh says BJP leaders approached them to withdraw the nomination, but supporters had “forced” his father to contest. The BJP’s candidate from Jhandutta is sitting MLA Jeet Ram Katwal.
Again, the Congress managed to convince its rebel from the seat, former MLA Beeru Ram Kishore, to withdraw, giving much respite to its candidate, Vivek Kumar. Kishore had lost last time to Katwal from Jhandutta.
In Shree Naina Deviji seat in Bilaspur district, BJP candidate Randhir Sharma, a loyalist of former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, was given the ticket over several aspirants such as former trade union leader Shankar Thakur, Kuldeep Thakur and Daulat Ram Sharma. Randhir Sharma had lost last time to the Congress’s Ram Lal Thakur, a former minister who has been fielded again by the Congress.
BJP sources question the logic of fielding Randhir Sharma again, given that he will also be facing the anti-incumbency against the BJP government.
Nadda has been closely involved with the ticket distribution and election process in Himachal, including campaigning, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah caught up in their home state of Gujarat. Nadda’s involvement was also prompted by the November 2021 bypoll setback, when the BJP had left the decision-making entirely to CM Jai Ram Thakur and state BJP president Suresh Kashyap, and ended up losing all the four seats (one of them Lok Sabha) to the Congress. Even Dhumal had been kept out of campaigning that time.
In the next few days till November 10, when the campaigning for the first phase ends, Nadda will hold several rallies in Himachal. On November 2, he will be in Bilaspur.
The BJP’s Bilaspur district president, Swantantra Sankhyan, admits the rebels may take away votes – “1,000 to 1,500”. “We have to work hard as it is Naddaji’s home district and we hope that people of Bilaspur will not disappoint him.”