Updated: December 19, 2017 8:32:52 am
The BJP on Monday registered a comprehensive victory in Himachal Pradesh, winning 44 seats which set the party on the path of a comfortable majority to form a government after five years of Congress rule. The Congress won 21 seats, down from the 36 it held in the outgoing assembly. But the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, Prem Kumar Dhumal, lost to the Congress’s Rajender Rana, who was once Dhumal’s political protégée. Dhumal’s loss has brought BJP face to face with a question — who will be its Chief Minister in Himachal. The names being mentioned are Union Health Minister J P Nadda and former minister Jai Ram Thakur, elected to the Assembly the fifth time from Seraj in Mandi district.
Among big winners from the Congress are Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who contested from Arki in Solan district, his son Vikramaditya Singh from Shimla (rural), State Congress president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and cabinet ministers Mukesh Agnihotri, Sujan Singh Pathania and Col (Rtd) Dhani Ram Shandil. However, five of Virbhadra’s cabinet ministers lost, among them transport minister G S Bali.
The BJP’s anti-incumbency and corruption plank seems to have paid off while the Congress’s campaign against demonetisation and GST fell flat. In the BJP, state president Satpal Satti lost, as did former BJP minister Ravinder Ravi, Gulab Singh Thakur and Maheshwar Singh — all sitting MLAs. Anil Sharma, the son of former telecom Sukh Ram, who quit the Congress and contested from Mandi as a BJP candidate, won.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) won one seat,Theog, which was a stronghold of Congress veteran Vidya Stokes, whose nomination was rejected on technical grounds. Stokes had announced her retirement from the contest before the polls, to leave the seat for Virbhadra Singh, who later changed his mind and shifted to Arki. It is understood that the Congress vote bank shifted to the CPI(M) and Rakesh Singha won.
As soon as early trends indicated that Dhumal may lose in Sujanpur, all eyes were on the BJP for its next choice. Sujanpur was never considered a safe seat for Dhumal. Hamirpur was a safe seat and had the party wanted, he would not have needed to prove himself against Rana, who enjoys mass support and a personal connect. Dhumal’s bete noire and Union Health Minister J P Nadda has emerged a contender for the CM’s berth. Jai Ram Thakur, a four-time MLA from Seraj constituency in Mandi as well as a former ABVP leader and RSS ideologue, is another probable. He was tipped to be the Deputy Chief Minister. When Dhumal’s defeat looked imminent, the party high command called Thakur to Delhi.
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