PK Dhumal's "26 loyalists" are likely to vote in his support,say sources.
After sweeping Himachal Pradesh, the BJP now finds itself looking for a new man for the top job. Prem Kumar Dhumal, the rare Chief Ministerial face projected by the BJP before the polls, lost in his seat but is still in the race, NDTV has learnt.
On Monday, as it became clear that Mr Dhumal, 73, was not winning even though the BJP was racing to an emphatic victory, a veteran lawmaker offered a way out. Virender Kumar, elected for the fourth time from the Kutlehar constituency, offered to vacate his seat for Mr Dhumal, say sources.
NDTV has learnt that more such offers may be made in the days to come, as the BJP debates who will be its chief minister in Himachal Pradesh.
This afternoon, in a meeting at Mr Dhumal's family home in Samirpur, a list of his loyalists was drawn up. Sources say Mr Dhumal counts around 26 of the BJP's 44 lawmakers as his supporters.
A team of observers headed by Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman will meet with all elected BJP lawmakers in Shimla. Sources say when that happens, Mr Dhumal's "26 loyalists" will vote in his support.
Mr Dhumal, a two-time Chief Minister, is two years short of the BJP's "retirement age". He was chosen to help the party gain the support of the upper castes - Brahmins and Rajputs - but he lost.
The party is weighing two more options; one involves sending a central leader to Himachal Pradesh and would require a by-election within six months. Union health minister JP Nadda, 57, and Mr Dhumal's 43-year-old son Anurag Thakur, are the two names reportedly being discussed for this option.
In the second - more popular - scenario, BJP lawmaker Jai Ram Thakur, who won his fifth election on Monday, will be chief minister. Soon after Mr Dhumal conceded defeat on Monday, Jai Ram Thakur, 52, took a flight to Himachal capital Shimla.
BJP chief Amit Shah said on Monday that the parliamentary board, which is the party's highest decision-making body, would decide on who would be chief minister.
With 44 seats, the BJP has won almost a two-thirds majority in the 68-member Himachal assembly, besides raising its tally of states to 14.
In a vote count that went on till past midnight, Mr Dhumal lost in Sujanpur to his Congress opponent Rajendra Singh Rana, who was once his election manager.
Mr Dhumal is a decade younger than Congress's Virbhadra Singh, a six term chief minister who lost power on Monday. Since 1998, the two have taken turns at the Chief Minister's post.
Sources say with an eye on the 2019 polls, the leadership is likely to stick to a name from the Rajput community, which constitutes 38 percent of the population.