Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, 78, today said he does not feel left out at having not got the BJP ticket this time — "I chose this myself," he claimed — but he saw reason in why several party leaders have turned rebel candidates for the November 12 assembly polls.
"There is indeed damage when there are rebels. Even if one vote is taken away, that is damage. And when party workers break away, they take many votes away," he told NDTV when asked about 21 of the state's 68 seats seeing BJP leaders — including some who'd recently come from other parties — contesting as Independents.
Mr Dhumal insisted there are rebels in both parties.
The Congress's rebel numbers, however, are in single digits.
"Of course, we (BJP) have more rebels because the party that's more likely to form the government always has more claimants for tickets," Mr Dhumal argued.
"I called up all of the rebels. I told them there's more grace in staying with the party. See, a hair pulled out, a fallen tooth, and a person rejected by society never again get their rightful place," he added.
The rebels, he said, are "driven by sentiments". "Maybe promises made to some of them were not kept. Every rebel has a reason," he said, speaking to NDTV while campaigning for the party at Sujanpur in Hamirpur district, where he lost last time despite being the BJP's presumptive chief minister.
He refused a direct answer about Jai Ram Thakur still being seen as an "accidental chief minister".
"I am a loyal worker of the party," he stressed, "I chose to make way for the younger generation this time. I am glad the party chose an ex-captain of the army (Ranjit Singh) as its candidate from Sujanpur. I'm trying to ensure his victory."
There was talk of Mr Dhumal being upset after his son son Anurag Thakur, a Union Minister who is MP from Hamirpur, was seen crying last month at a poll rally when speaking about the father's "untiring efforts even at this age". He later said he was not crying over any ticket denial as "my father chose to retire anyway". Mr Dhumal had written a letter to this effect just before candidates were named — a move many saw as a face-saver.
On his future, the former professor today gave a philosophical answer: "There are many posts in the party and government, including Chief Minister. And there is always a day when it's prefixed with 'former'. But in our party the karyakarta, the worker, is never 'former'. I will be a karyakarta until I die. And I will support whoever gets the party ticket."
Projecting PM Narendra Modi's face, the BJP is confident it will break the state's "rivaaj" or trend of changing the government every election. The Congress, facing a leadership tussle since Virbhadra Singh's death last year, sees the BJP's rebellion as the differentiator it needed.
Among key poll issues is the restoration of Old Pension Scheme promised by the Congress.
Mr Dhumal said to that, "The Congress was in power in the state and the Centre when the old scheme was removed in Himachal in 2014. Whenever the OPS brought back, only the BJP will do that."
Asked what he believes should be done as Himachal has a high proportion of people in government service, he said, "Personally, I feel people who serve the state for long years should get a respectable pension. If the minimum pension is set at Rs 9-10,000, much of the problem will be resolved."
On the Agnipath scheme of four-year contractual in the armed forces — Himachal has a strong tradition of army service — he said, "It's new, so youngsters are not able to understand its benefits yet. With time, they will."
Voting is this Saturday; results are scheduled for December 8.