Former Himachal Pradesh CM Prem Kumar Dhumal Will Not Contest State Polls

BJP veteran Prem Kumar Dhumal's announcement comes amidst a BJP Central Election Committee (CEC) meeting in New Delhi to finalise the list of candidates for the forthcoming Himachal Pradesh assembly elections.

Prem Kumar Dhumal.

Former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh and BJP war-horse Prem Kumar Dhumal, 78, has decided to retire from electoral politics ahead of the crucial assembly elections slated for November 12. 

His announcement comes amidst a BJP Central Election Committee (CEC) meeting in New Delhi to finalise the list of candidates for the forthcoming state assembly elections. The list of BJP candidates is likely to be announced in the next 24 hours, according to sources. 

“I have conveyed my decision to the party leadership through a letter, which I wrote some days back. Even when BJP national organising secretary B L Santosh came to meet me, during his recent tour to Himachal Pradesh, I mentioned it,” Dhumal told Outlook over the phone from Delhi.

For the past few months, Dhumal had become quite active in the Sujanpur assembly constituency, which he had lost in the 2017 poll to his estranged lieutenant and Congress candidate Rajendra Rana, by a narrow margin of voters.

A two-time chief minister, Dhumal’s moves in the constituency has put the BJP into a serious dilemma especially after Rajya Sabha member Indu Goswami had virtually declared his candidates at a conference of BJP Mahila Mandals and called upon them to get Dhumal elected by a record margin.

Till now, Dhumal had not opened his cards even as his functions in the constituency were drawing crowds.

“Yesterday, when the state election committee meeting started, I told everyone about my decision to take a back seat giving the party high command a free hand to select any candidate in my place for Sujanpur,” said the former chief minister.

Speaking to Outlook, Dhumal said, “I am quite conscious of the party’s decision on the age bar. It's the party's principled stand and I fully respect the norm. Thus, I have chosen to retire from electoral politics. My entire focus will be to see that BJP forms the next government changing the tradition of alternating the governments."

Dhumal had led the party in 1998 to form the state's first coalition government with Himachal Vikas Congress (HVC) --- a political outfit launched by former telecom minister Sukh Ram.

During this period, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a party in charge in the state, and played a key role in roping in Sukh Ram and his five MLAs; three of them had also later joined the BJP. He was the first non-Congress Chief Minister in Himachal Pradesh who completed his full five-year term unlike his party predecessor Shanta Kumar.

He lost his government to Virbhadra Singh in 2003 but bounced back again in 2007.

Again as the custom of changing governments, it was Virbhadra Singh’s turn to make a comeback in 2012 despite corruption cases filed against him by the Dhumal government and later a CBI FIR.

In 2017, the BJP stormed back to power winning 44 assembly seats in the 68-member House.

Unfortunately, Dhumal, who was the party’s face for the chief ministerial post, lost his election from Sujanpur, a constituency he had opted for in place of Hamirpur, where he was elected earlier.

This led to the rise of Jai Ram Thakur, a five-time MLA as the chief ministerial.

During the past five years, Dhumal's son Anurag Thakur’s star outshined after the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. He was inducted as MoS (Finance and corporate affairs) and later elevated to the cabinet rank as Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting.

Yet, Dhumal’s decision to not contest the poll has left his supporters and constituents, particularly the women folks, shell-shocked. 

However, this has brought a big relief to CM Jai Ram Thakur, who is now the party’s face for the chief ministerial post.