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Why is BJP so divided in in Himachal?

By Aditi Phadnis
June 20, 2020 13:56 IST
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If the bribe-for-PPE-supply controversy in Himachal escalates, the BJP could have a lot to lose, reports Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, right, with Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, left. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

When Himachal Pradesh's Director of Health Services A K Gupta allegedly asked a Sirmaur-based supplier of PPE kits for a bribe for a state government purchase and allegedly informed somebody on his mobile phone -- many say Rajeev Bindal, erstwhile president of the Bharatiya Janata Party's state unit -- that he was coming to meet him with the money, the officer could not have thought that he would be arrested.

He was, after all, in touch with the president of the ruling party's state unit.

So what happened?

Congress leader in the state Virbhadra Singh says the scam came to light only because there is a power struggle in the state BJP unit.

That is certainly true, though whether the bribe was taken or given and Bindal's alleged complicity in the matter (he has since resigned from his position) is still a matter of investigation.

The mobile phones involved have been seized and sent to a forensic lab.

Bindal's resignation was accepted by the BJP's national president Jagat Prakash Nadda, himself a Himachali, with amazing alacrity.

Behind the alacrity is the result of the 2017 Himachal assembly election.

Nine days before the polls, then BJP national president Amit Anilchandra Shah announced that Prem Kumar Dhumal would be the chief minister if (and not when) the party came to power.

Bindal, health minister in the last Dhumal government and considered his right-hand man, got ready for the oath-taking.

Dhumal has an excellent equation with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi -- the two go back to the days in 1997-1998 when Modi was the party in-charge of Himachal Pradesh.

At his public meetings, Modi endorsed the choice and said Dhumal, 73, would make a 'wonderful' chief minister.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Dhumal lost the election.

Not only did Hamirpur -- Dhumal's constituency and area of influence -- show the lowest ever turnout (indicating low enthusiasm for the election), but also the Congress wrested several seats in the area earlier held by the BJP.

From the BJP's point of view, it was a bad show.

If Dhumal was out of the race, who was to become the chief minister? Two BJP leaders, Nirmala Sitharaman and Narendra Tomar, were dispatched as observers to sense the mind of the legislature party.

They could not have anticipated the scene: While Dhumal supporters shouted 'Himachal ka neta kaisa ho, Prem Kumar Dhumal jaisa ho'; and 'Sara Himachal dol raha hai, Dhumal Dhumal bol raha hai', Jai Ram Thakur supporters countered with 'Hamara neta kaisa ho? Jai Ram Thakur jaisa ho', and 'Jairam ji ko jai shri Ram'

The less original was: 'Narendra Modi zindabad, Jai Ram Thakur zindabad'/, bracketing Modi with Thakur.

After extended consultations, the party said the name would be announced in Delhi.

In the meantime, Amit Anilchandra Shah reportedly telephoned Dhumal and asked him to issue a press release declaring he was not in the race.

Dhumal had no choice in the matter.

But his influence could not be denied.

What followed was a protracted negotiation over the council of ministers. Rajeev Bindal was named assembly speaker.

At that time, Nadda was also a player, but he was marginalised in the clash of the titans.

When Nadda became the BJP's national president, Dhumal, presumably with his eye on the next assembly election, lobbied for Bindal to become the state party chief.

Nadda appointed Bindal, but the scam was just what he needed and now, could be replacing him with his own man, Randhir Sharma, who belongs to Nadda's district, Bilaspur.

Thakur has consolidated his position.

Dhumal's reach to the PMO might have become a bit shaky -- though he has a powerful advocate in his son Anurag Thakur, Union minister of state for finance and a highly visible face in the current pandemic.

The question is: Who told on Bindal?

A letter purportedly sent to the PMO complaining about the irregularities in the procurement of the PPE kits was what led to Bindal's sacking.

BJP veteran Shanta Kumar has made his anguish at the events very public.

As well he might -- he has nothing to lose.

But the BJP does.

If the controversy escalates, fanned helpfully by the chief Mminister and his supporters, the BJP could have a lot to lose.

Production: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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