Too little too late? BJP on the Back Foot in poll-bound Delhi

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Delhi BJP Chief Vijay Goel greets Harsh Vardhan after he was declared the partys chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi assembly polls, at the party office in New Delhi. PTI Photo
Delhi BJP Chief Vijay Goel greets Harsh Vardhan after he was declared the partys chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi assembly polls, at the party office in New Delhi. PTI Photo

At the 11, Ashoka Road office in New Delhi, Dr Harsh Vardhan, 58, beams as Sushma Swaraj pops a laddoo in his mouth. It is 23 October; the BJP central leadership has just declared its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, bringing an end to what has been a very public speculation over who was going to be crowned prince — the 58-year old ENT specialist from east Delhi or Vijay Goel, self-styled cm candidate. Standing at a distance, looking suitably uncomfortable and unsuitably happy, Goel watches the proceedings, trying desperately to get off the stage. In the end, it was his selfstyled approach that cost the Delhi BJP president the chief ministerial berth he was hoping for.

Party president Rajnath Singh assures the media that all is well in the BJP household. “Vijay Goel came to me yesterday and said that Dr Harsh Vardhan should be the cm candidate and that he will continue to work for the party,” says Rajnath, putting an end to the speculation on whether Goel would want to continue after being overlooked for the position. Interestingly, Goel had himself fanned the speculation after he had told the media a few days ago that he would only take such a decision after the chief ministerial candidate was announced.

According to party insiders, on 22 October, he worked well into the night to push his case. “I will keep working for the party,” he says after the announcement. “We will work together to defeat the Congress, which has broken all records of corruption and price rise.”

The show of strength aside, even BJP members admit that with a little over 40 days to go for the Assembly polls, the very public tussle in the Delhi BJP has ensured that the party has lost any anti-incumbency advantage it had over the Congress. Goel, who tried to pitch himself as the ideal choice for the chief minister’s post (based on results of a survey he had conducted in the capital) to the BJP top rung during a Central Election Committee meeting on 21 October, was informed that Vardhan enjoyed a better image and the party had little choice but to name him as their candidate. According to a party member, a visibly upset Goel offered his resignation and left the meeting, though Goel later denied doing any such thing.

“Harsh Vardhan is the best compromise candidate,” explains a party leader (with battlelines drawn, not many are willing to be named). “An RSS man, he was propped up by Arun Jaitley, who has not been a fan of Vijay Goel for sometime now. Vardhan also has the support of Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari. On the other hand, Goel is seen as arrogant and abrasive. The RSS doesn’t support him and the central leaders do not want someone like that in Delhi.”

The fact that Goel had assumed the mantle of the bjp’s chief ministerial candidate in the past few months without seeking the party’s consent, did not sit well with everyone.

“Unlike the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the BJP does not have a face in Delhi,” says another BJP insider on condition of anonymity. “If the party were to come to power under Goel, he would have demanded all the top posts for his people. The central leaders don’t want that.”

But there are other views too. “If Harsh Vardhan was to walk down the streets of Delhi, no one would recognise him,” says a senior party member. “No one knows who he is. On the other hand, Goel’s face has been plastered all over the city for months on end. If the party wanted to make this move, it should have done so at least a year ago so that Vardhan had a chance to build his public image.”

Reacting to this development, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, “Is Dr Harsh Vardhan BJP’s Manmohan Singh in Delhi? Manmohan failed to check corruption within the Congress and his own government. A corrupt BJP has now made Hash Vardhan its face in Delhi. What did he do all these years to check the BJP’s corruption in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD)?”

Congress leader Jagdish Tytler brushes aside the appointment of Vardhan as a decision driven by “a lack of options”.

A section within the Delhi BJP feels it would have been better to contest the election without a face. “If either candidate is chosen before the polls, the other faction can work overtime to ensure he does not succeed, pulling down the overall performance of the party,” says another insider.

The central leadership, including Narendra Modi, see the Delhi Assembly election as a crucial test ahead of 2014. A fourth consecutive loss in the capital, especially in the face of the ‘growing Modi phenomenon’, would be a real knock in the teeth for the party hoping to secure a majority in the Lok Sabha next year.

Immediately after the announcement was made, party patriarch LK Advani said, “Delhi is where it all started for the BJP back in 1951”. By opting to place their trust in an old party hand who has not lost an election since 1993, the BJP would want Advani’s words to be prophetic.

Officially, it is putting up a united face. “This is a unanimous decision of the party and there is no division within the ranks”, says party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “Fifteen years of Congress misrule has ensured that the BJP will push them out of power.”

Whether it ensures a win or not, the internal bickering has already ensured one thing: that the BJP’s loss is the AAP’s gain. Vociferously anti-Congress and anti- corruption, Arvind Kejriwal’s party stands to benefit from the voters who are not so sure of the BJP anymore.

avalok@tehelka.com

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