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Jai Ram Thakur retains BJP leadership’s faith, but rivals wait in the wings

Himachal CM is set to lead the party in state polls later this year, but insiders say the ‘scenario may change’.

Written by Om Prakash Thakur | Shimla |
Updated: April 18, 2022 2:58:04 pm
The seeds of Thakur’s elevation were sown during the rule of the Prem Kumar Dhumal government between 2007 and 2012. (File)

He rose to the top of Himachal Pradesh politics by navigating internecine power struggles in the state BJP and kept the infighting largely in check. Now, amid reports of his rivals in the party manoeuvring, the central leadership has made it clear that Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur will be the BJP’s face for the state elections later this year.

The seeds of Thakur’s elevation were sown during the rule of the Prem Kumar Dhumal government between 2007 and 2012. Internal feud in the party at the time led to the ouster from state politics of then state Cabinet minister Jagat Prakash Nadda and Mahendra Pandey who was the party’s state organisation secretary. While Nadda moved to a central leadership role and is now the BJP national president, Pandey continued to work with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

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Dhumal lost power in the subsequent election in 2012 as the Congress won. Five years later, even as the saffron party returned to power, Dhumal failed to win from Sujanpur. With this effectively ending his chance of becoming chief minister for a third term, the BJP’s surprise pick for the top post was Thakur, a five-time MLA from the Seraj Assembly constituency (known as Chachiot before 2012) with a clean image and a background in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). His rise to the top post was backed by Nadda and Pandey, who promoted ABVP office-bearers during his time in the state unit.

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Facing pushback from the Dhumal faction, Thakur shielded himself by leveraging his deep roots in the RSS and maintaining cordial ties with both the BJP central leadership and the Opposition. Thakur sought the support of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh of the Congress, who died last year, and though the BJP had come to power on the back of an anti-corruption campaign against the Congress government, the investigation of the cases did not get expedited. At the time, Thakur announced that he wanted vendetta politics in the state to end.

During his tenure, the chief minister did not face any big internal rebellion unlike Dhumal, whose two terms in power saw senior leaders, including Shanta Kumar, openly challenge his leadership. In 2020, former Speaker Rajiv Bindal’s appointment as the state unit chief put Thakur in a bind as he is believed to be in the opposite camp. But Bindal resigned within four months after it emerged that one of his close associates was allegedly involved in a case of corruption in the health department. Thakur’s position strengthened further after MP Suresh Kashyap was chosen to be the new state BJP president.

Despite his deft handling of the Opposition and his detractors in the party, Thakur has not entirely succeeded in keeping his critics at bay. Last year, questions were raised following the party’s poor performance in the municipal polls and the Assembly by-elections, but the chief minister prevailed with the support of the central leadership.

This, however, did not put an end to speculation, both within the party and outside, about the return of Dhumal’s son and Union Minister Anurag Thakur to state politics. Earlier this month, Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia claimed that the ruling party was planning to replace Jai Ram Thakur with the Union minister.

Asked about Sisodia’s claim, Nadda, Dhumal’s long-time bête noire, told reporters in Shimla on April 10 that there was “no possibility of replacing Jai Ram Thakur”. He added, “Under his leadership, the government is doing well. The government will run under his leadership even in the future.”

A party functionary said Nadda’s comments would not quell factionalism in the party, and added that Dhumal was an influential mass leader.

A senior BJP leader said it was too early to rule out the former chief minister and his son. “Let us wait for the results of the Shimla Municipal Corporation election in the coming month,” he added. “After that, the scenario may change.”

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