Tremors in Himachal BJP?
From all accounts, Himachal Pradesh is witnessing a very close battle between the Congress and the ruling BJP. While the Aam Admi Party did try to disrupt the narrative, that process ended up in a whimper when the bulk of the party joined the BJP in the presence of Anurag Thakur, well before the polling process started. However, the BJP is plagued with its own turf wars, a casualty of which is the denial of a ticket to the popular ex Chief Minister of the state, Prem Kumar Dhumal. This has not gone down well with his supporters, who attribute this rightly or wrongly to the age-old turf war between Dhumal and the current BJP chief, J.P. Nadda. The 78-year-old Dhumal still has a strong influence in the new Himachal districts of Hamirpur, Mandi, Una and Kangra. But, however, Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur is emerging as one of the more bankable faces in the Narendra Modi government and is clearly being groomed as a leader of the future in Team Modi-Shah. Dhumal’s other son, Arun Dhumal is currently the IPL chief. Given that Gen Next is on an upward spiral, Dhumal senior is not openly encouraging any dissidence in the state BJP and even had a meeting with Nadda recently to allay misgivings. And while he has not been given a ticket, Dhumal’s face is very much there on party posters along with Prime Minister Modi, J.P. Nadda, former CM Shanta Kumar, current CM Jairam Thakur, as well as Anurag Thakur.
However, others who have been denied tickets are contesting as independents. And with nearly 20 rebels in the fray, the BJP’s biggest problem could be the rival contestants for the same vote share in the 68-seat strong Assembly.
Rahul’s New Look
The latest accessory in Rahul Gandhi’s image makeover seems to be his overgrown beard, along with some sacred paste smeared on his forehead. Perhaps his image-makers felt this gives him a sort of spiritual look at par with the PM’s own bearded look that Modi adopted post Covid and during his televised pilgrimage to Kashi. Not quite sure what Team Rahul is planning, but the former Congress president is certainly playing his part—in fact trying on many different parts—during his Bharat Jodo Yatra as he mingles with Bharat and tries to figure out what image best suits him. Until he figures this out, the beard remains.
And note, this is a different look from the stubble he sported during his angry young man avatar. The flowing beard seems to be getting more TRPs for Bharat Jodo Yatra, which recently saw NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule walk with Rahul. This is a clear signal that at least one opposition party (apart from the Left) is recognising Rahul as a leader. Also, all attempts are being made to ensure that the yatra is as successful in the North as it was in the South, with Kamal Nath readying the Madhya Pradesh state unit to welcome the yatris and in Rajasthan both the Gehlot and Pilot camps are doing their bit. For his part, Rahul too seems to have embraced the spirit of the yatra by staying the course and even joking that he was missing his “container” during his Delhi visit. Go, figure.
Priyanka’s Himachal Foray
With Rahul Gandhi staying clear from the state polls in Gujarat and Himachal, his sister has emerged as the star campaigner, especially in Himachal where the party senses a 50:50 chance versus the BJP. While the Congress lacks a tall leader, there are the warring factions of Pratibha Singh and Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu. Pratibha is the state PCC chief and former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s widow; while Sukhu is the Congress campaign committee chief and both see themselves as the next state CM should the Congress win enough seats.
In a recent interview, Sukhu had claimed that a “new leadership” has emerged within the Congress post Virbhadra Singh, and when asked to name the new leaders he’d replied, “Mukesh Agnihotri and I.” (A four-time MLA, Mukesh is the Leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly and indeed someone who can take all factions along and keep the party united. In fact, if the Congress does not get a comfortable majority then Mukesh is better placed to keep all the factions together than the other contenders.) Meanwhile, the presence of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has also united the rest of the central leadership, whether it was the sulking Anand Sharma versus the normally non-confrontational Rajiv Shukla, or the still-to-be resolved turf war between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. At least as far as optics are concerned, they all showed up for the Himachal campaign.
The Himachal Campaign
Considering that this is a local state election, there are as many “outstation” and international issues being depicted on the campaign posters, as local ones. The BJP posters talk about how the PM has made India proud internationally, how stranded Indians were rescued from Ukraine, how we made our own homegrown sanjeevani, the made in India vaccines. The Ram Mandir at Ayodhya also finds a mention, as does the Ujjwala yojana. The Congress is talking economics, promising 5 lakh jobs to the youth, a return to the old pension scheme and Rs 1,500 per month for women. With Rahul Gandhi missing from the Congress campaign, the usual narrative of RaGa vs Modi is also absent from the campaign field. Whether by default or by strategy, Rahul’s absence has also forced the BJP to fight a more issue-based and less personality-based campaign, though the PM’s face stands out in all the BJP posters.
However, since party chief J.P. Nadda is from Himachal, he has been monitoring the campaign personally, addressing rallies and organising the workers. The newly appointed Congress chief, Mallikarjun Kharge is also working in tandem with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to monitor the Congress campaign.
Meanwhile, on Twitter
Marketing maven and political commentator Suhel Seth had the last word on Twitter recently when he tweeted: “The amount of letters this conman Sukesh has written from prison should easily qualify him to speak at any literature festival.
The last time anyone wrote so many letters from prison became Prime Minister.” Apart from taking a dig at the way too many literature festivals that have suddenly sprung up all over the countryside, Suhel’s reference is to Sukesh Chandrashekhar, who is lodged at Rohini Jail, facing accusations in an over Rs 200 crore extortion and cheating case. While behind bars, Sukesh has been dominating the headlines writing frequent memos—mostly against the Aam Admi Party, or else issuing statements through his lawyers about his relationship with various Bollywood celebritiess, industrialists and their wives. All with enough masala to keep the media spotlight on him.