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 and nominate Prem Kumar Dhumal as its chief ministerial candidate for the Himachal Pradesh polls.
The recalibration come in the wake of assessment that the party may now have to bank heavily on the Thakur vote and the former CM to take on the ruling Congress.
Congress had earlier this month named the 83-year-old Virbhadra Singh its campaign committee chief after some hard bargaining by the octogenarian leader. The party, in the process, had bestowed unbridled power in the current cm to lead the electioneering and choose his candidates.
Virbhadra’s Singh son Vikramaditya was also given ticket- the only instance in the state where both father and son have been accommodated by the party.
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 75, the 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.