New Delhi: Congress giving a virtual free hand to Virbhadra Singh has forced BJP to go back to the drawing board to fine-tune its strategy for the upcoming assembly polls in Himanchal Pradesh.
The party may now have to bank heavily on the Thakur vote and former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal to take on the ruling Congress in this poll bound state.
Congress had earlier this week named the 83-year-old veteran leader as its campaign committee chief after some hard bargaining by Singh. The party, in the process, has bestowed unbridled power in the octogenarian leader to lead the electioneering and choose his candidates.
Electoral politics in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh — as in Uttarakhand —is dominated by the upper caste. And within the upper caste, fault line run deep with the numerically and socially dominant Brahmins and Rajputs vying for a larger share in the spoils of power.
Earlier this year, Trivendra Singh Rawat, a Rajput by caste, was nominated by BJP as the Uttarakhand Chief Minister. Rawat's elevation was seen as an indication that the party might choose to do the same in Himachal Pradesh and hand over the leadership baton to a Brahmin, if it were to win in the otherwise Congress-ruled state.
This guiding axiom in CM selection has been referred to by both the national parties in equal measures in the past. The attempt is to maintain a delicate power balance between the dominant social groups.
In fact, intra-party politics in both states is also guided by the same principle. As a derivative of this caste calculus, both Congress and BJP, over the years have projected one Brahmin and one Rajput face. They always come in pairs — Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal, Virbhadra Singh and Sukh Ram.
With Sukh Ram facing the corruption taint, Congress sought to replace him with Anand Sharma. In the case of BJP, Union Health Minister JP Nadda has emerged as a strong contender to take the baton from Shanta Kumar.
Nadda, who is the former BJP Yuva Morcha President, has risen up the ranks from student union politics. He's also served as a minister in Dhumal government earlier.
In the prevailing caste matrix, Nadda was thus seen as a clear challenger to stake claim for the top post. Dhumal at 73, is fast approaching the 75 year retirement age set by the current dispensation in the BJP.
But with Congress deciding to wager this election on Virbhadra Singh's dexterity to manage caste combinations, BJP had to bring back Dhumal to the battlefield.
After Yeddyurappa in Karnataka, BJP appears to be willing to relax the age limit for another leader up north. In a high stake political battle, age after all, is only a number.