BJP banks on old warhorses to regain ground

Shimla, Sep 27 (IANS) The BJP seems to be banking on its old warhorses to regain its lost political ground in Himachal Pradesh.

In the process, foes are turning friends and deserters are being brought back in sync with the maxim: In politics, there is no permanent enemy and no permanent friend.

Ahead of the 2014 general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ousted from power after last November's assembly elections, has begun an exercise to keep its house in order.

Insiders said a state core group meeting called by BJP president Rajnath Singh in Chandigarh this week has told both warhorses - Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shanta Kumar - to sink their differences and work unitedly to improve the party's prospects in the general elections.

"Reposing faith in both Dhumal and Shanta Kumar, the party president was categorically clear that infighting cost the party much in the assembly elections," a senior leader told IANS.

After the polls, the Dhumal faction had openly blamed the Shanta Kumar group for the defeat.

At the meeting, the party president also conveyed that Shanta Kumar would always be consulted on all important issues.

"The party could not ignore Shanta-ji at this crucial juncture when every Lok Sabha seat matters. Shanta-ji was told to focus more on regrouping the party's cadre, especially in the Kangra parliamentary constituency," said the leader, who didn't wish to be identified.

Party insiders said that at the meeting, Shanta Kumar again raked up the issue of senior leaders like Maheshwar Singh, a four-time former MP who deserted the party last February and floated a new political front.

Shanta Kumar said the party could be strengthened only by bringing the rebels back.

"After giving a patient hearing to Shanta Kumar's suggestions, Rajnath Singh said any decision on taking back the rebels should be taken after going through the pros and cons of this," said the leader.

Sources said the party might field Dhumal and Shanta Kumar from the Hamirpur and Kangra constituencies respectively in 2014.

Currently, Dhumal's son Anurag Thakur is the MP from Hamirpur. The BJP's other MP, Rajan Sushant, representing Kangra, has been suspended from the party for indiscipline.

From Shimla, sitting BJP MP Virender Kashyap is likely to be fielded again, while legislator Jai Ram Thakur is likely to contest again from Mandi.

In the June parliamentary by-election, Himachal's ruling Congress party retained the Mandi Lok Sabha seat by a handsome margin.

"If Maheshwar Singh returns to the party, then he can be the BJP's candidate from Mandi. But the chances of his returning are remote as just four months back his party backed the Congress candidate from Mandi," said a political observer.

On the other hand, Congress leader and Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who is at the helm of government for the sixth time, has been trying hard to win all the state's four Lok Sabha seats.

He has been repeatedly cornering former chief minister Dhumal and his MP son Anurag Thakur over alleged misdeeds during the BJP's term in office.

Ahead of the closure of roads owing to snow, the chief minister began Sep 26 a three-day tour of tribal areas that are part of the Mandi parliamentary constituency. Virbhadra Singh's wife Pratibha Singh had won the seat in the June by-poll.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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