The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Himachal Pradesh has extended an olive branch to its rebel leaders in an attempt to keep the Congress out of power as the BJP finds its electoral prospects fiercely jolted by rebellion within its ranks.
BJP Himachal President Suresh Kashyap and Chief Minister Jairam Thakur have confirmed to Outlook that the BJP is open to seeking support from Independents and rebels.
In the run-up to the Himachal assembly elections, the BJP was jolted by rebellion with its ranks. Defying the party diktat to not contest November 12 assembly polls against official BJP candidates, some ended up contesting polls against BJP candidates after being denied tickets.
Few of these BJP rebels have already been contacted by BJP ‘managers’ to seek their support in case they get elected and the BJP falls short of the numbers to form the next government.
“The party is keeping all its options open for the upcoming situation. We are not averse to taking support of the Independents,” said BJP Himachal President Suresh Kashyap to Outlook, who is also a sitting MP.
As many as 21 party rebels have contested against the nominated candidates after they were denied tickets. These rebels include two sitting MLAs and a former Rajya Sabha member besides other former MLAs and top party office-bearers. The rebellion is rooted in BJP’s decision to deny tickets to 11 sitting MLAs, shift two ministers to other constituencies, and drop one to favour his son.
At a review meeting of BJP’s Himachal election committee held on Sunday in Parwanoo, Kashyap exuded confidence that the BJP will get a comfortable majority despite possible damage caused to its prospects on half a dozen seats.
The BJP candidates informed their party leaders in the meeting that the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) has worked against the party as well as the presence of rebels in the contest.
Kashyap said, “The party got constituency-wise feedback and has come to conclusions that the BJP will be returning to power on its own strength. If need be, our options are open to take support of the Independents. Few of our rebels are in a position to win.”
Earlier, some of the potential winners from the rebels’ faction also met the CM Thakur at his official residence and apparently showed their willingness to stand by the party if it fell short of numbers.
“We are hoping to do well and get two-third majority. Yet we are also in close touch with rebels. Few have come to me on their own,” confirmed Thakur to Outlook.
The BJP insiders revealed that rebels who are under the BJP lens include KL Thakur (Nalagarh) and Hoshiyar Singh (Dehra). Apart from them, Congress leaders Jagjivan Pal (Sullah), Indu Verma (Theog), Ashish Sharma (Hamirpur), and Gangu Ram Musafir (Pachhad) are also being considered.
Musafir ,72, is a former assembly speaker and a Congress veteran known for his loyalty to former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.
Two Independents KL Thakur and Hoshiar Singh have also made it clear publicly that they will support the party which will implement the OPS. So far only the Congress has promised to implement OPS as the issue has worked against the BJP in the elections.
Congress President Pratibha Singh said, “We will take a decision on OPS in the first Cabinet meeting of the new government. It is one of the 10 guarantees that Congress has given to the people and employees in the state at the time of elections.
“The writing on the wall is clear. People have voted the BJP out of power as all sections of people, including employees, women, the youth, farmers, and fruit growers have supported the Congress.”
Vikramaditya Singh, Congress MLA and son of Virbhadra Singh, has expressed apprehensions about the BJP resorting to horse trading to form the government as it knows it has been voted-out.
As the Congress views a record 75.6 per cent voter turn-out in its favour, the race for the chief ministerial post has also started heating up in Himachal with some of the aspirants already reaching Delhi or regrouping to get a feel as who has the maximum numbers of elected MLAs on their side.
Himachal Pradesh went to polls on November 12. The counting of votes will be held on December 8. Himachal has a trend of electing a new government every five years and the incumbent BJP is looking to change this ‘rivaz’ [custom] by getting re-elected and the Congress is looking to repeat the history by coming to power.