Prem Kumar Dhumal, who has been the Himachal Pradesh chief minister twice, was on Tuesday declared the Bharatiya Janata Party's chief ministerial candidate by its president Amit Shah in the poll-bound state.
Shah's announcement at a public meeting, barely days before the assembly polls scheduled for November 9, seems to be driven by the party's calculation that the 73-year-old leader remains its best bet to oust the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government from the state.
Union minister J P Nadda was seen as another strong contender for the party's choice for the top post due to his perceived proximity to its central leadership, but Dhumal's mass connect seemed to have tipped the scale in his favour.
"Virbharda Singh keeps asking us that under whose leadership the BJP is fighting the elections. In the whole country, the BJP is fighting under the leadership of Modiji. But if you want to hear under whose leadership the BJP is contesting in Himachal, then I want to make it clear today.
"Vibhadra ji, the BJP is going to fight under Dhumalji's leadership in Himachal. I want to say that we will fight these 2017 polls in the name of our senior leader Dhumalji. I also want to say that Dhumalji is currently a former chief minister and the leader of the opposition, but after December 18 he will become Himachal's chief minister," Shah said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said has rich administrative experience and will make a "wonderful CM" once again.
Shortly after the announcement about Dhumal was made, Modi said the BJP wants to make Himachal Pradesh corruption- free and undertake record development in the state.
"Dhumal Ji is among our senior most leaders with rich administrative experience in Himachal. He will once again make a wonderful CM @DhumalHP," Modi tweeted.
"BJP’s focus is politics of development. We want to make Himachal corruption-free & initiate record development initiatives in the state," the prime minister added.
Dhumal, a 73-year-old leader who has been the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh twice, has been spearheading the party's campaign in the state since 1998 assembly polls. He led it to victory in 1998 and 2007 but lost in 2003 and 2012.
The BJP will have a direct contest with the ruling Congress which has already projected Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh as the campaign committee chief.
The state poll results would be declared on December 18.
The BJP and the Congress were ruling the state alternately for close to three decades, and Dhumal was at the helm for 10 years.
The BJP had kept people guessing as to whether it would name a chief ministerial candidate before the polls.
Often it did not name a candidate, as seen in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand among others but it chose to name its choice in Assam, where it won, and Delhi, where it lost.