The BJP is likely to project a local face “prominently” in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, which will take place towards the end of this year, as the tenure of the current Assembly will expire in November.

Highly placed sources in the BJP said that the party was mulling over three names to be projected as the CM candidate. These names are of Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda, Mandi-based RSS leader Ajay Jamwal and former state BJP president Jairam Thakur. “The election will be contested under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is our biggest asset right now. However, we believe that a local face, who will be prominently used in the campaigning, is necessary for the hill state and hence a few leaders, who are the rightful contender of the CM’s post will get more prominence,” a senior BJP source told The Sunday Guardian. Party sources said that an initial list of close to 35 candidates for the 68 seats has almost been finalised last week. “Candidates for some of the seats are being deliberated upon and we expect that all the names will be announced by October first week. The name of the CM is still not final, but the list is not long as you would expect,” a senior BJP leader said.

Sources said that unlike speculation in the national media, the party was not considering the name of Anurag Thakur, who is BJP MP from Hamirpur and son of Prem Kumar Dhumal, for CM candidate. “News regarding Thakur is speculation. He is still young; his time will come. The party is right now looking at an experienced face,” the leader said. The 56-year-old Nadda, who prefers keeping a low profile and whose name had also come up for the post of national BJP president sometime ago, is not pushing for any role in Himachal Pradesh.

“He has not shown either reluctance or keenness to go to Himachal as the CM face. He is one of our most popular, honest faces in the state and even the RSS likes him as he has been associated with the RSS since his childhood. Ultimately, it will be the decision of the parliamentary board on whom the responsibility is given,” a party source said. A closed-door meeting of the state party leaders regarding ticket distribution was held last week which was presided by Union minister Thawar Chand Gehlot, who was recently named the party’s election in-charge.  In the current Assembly, the Congress holds 36 of the 68 seats, while the BJP holds 26.

“We have already started the campaigning and have organised a series of parivartan yatras and yuva aakrosh rallies across the state. We are focusing on young voters and for that, we need a face with whom they can identify with at the local level,” the leader said.

Historically, Himachal has never repeated a party since 1985 and Congress and BJP have exchanged power since then. The BJP won the state for the first time in 1990. The other name that is being discussed as the CM face is Ajay Jamwal, a staunch RSS man who started his political career as a pracharak in the ABVP. He later moved to Arunachal and Leh-Ladakh as a pracharak for the RSS. He was given organisational role in Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab and he finally assumed the role of in-charge of the Northeast. He played an important role in the BJP coming to power in Assam last year. “The thing that is in favour of Jamwal is that Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have shown this propensity of doing things differently and selecting people who were not in the reckoning. This was seen in Jharkhand, Harayana and Maharashtra. Jamwal is an organisation man and has a strong backing of the RSS,” the party source added.

A section within the party is pushing for Jai Ram Thakur, who is a four-time party MLA from Seraj, Mandi and has been the state president in the past. Thakur, just like Nadda and Jamwal, has risen from the ABVP and has a strong network in the state. “He is very popular among the cadre and has a non-controversial image and he may emerge as the strongest contender among the three,” the party source added.

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