Five years ago, when many in Delhi felt that the Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of unit president Harsh Vardhan would be able to upset the applecart of Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and form its government, the senior party leadership along with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh had come together to announce the name of then Deputy Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and veteran leader V.K. Malhotra as the chief ministerial candidate. The party only ended up losing another electoral battle.
Five years down the line, the same Dr. Vardhan has suddenly become the darling of the RSS and senior leadership and they now see in him an answer to Ms. Dikshit’s 'unwavering popularity' and as a 'face' which can match her charisma and cosmopolitan outlook.
Ironically, Dr. Vardhan’s rise has got to do as much with his own appeal as the anger and resentment among many senior party leaders in Delhi and at the Centre with the leadership of Delhi BJP president Vijay Goel. Though Mr. Goel was brought in as party unit chief to revive the flagging fortunes of the party in Delhi, energise the workers and translate the anger of the masses against the alleged all-round failure of the Sheila Dikshit Government into votes, he, many in the party rank and file believe, has managed to achieve precious little.
If party insiders are to be believed, the Delhi BJP is today more fragmented than even before. ``All the senior leaders were sidelined by Mr. Goel and important posts in the party were given to people who carried little weight. Be it Jagdish Mukhi, Dr. Vardhan, Prof. Malhotra, Arti Mehra or Vijender Gupta or even others like Pravesh Verma and Vijay Jolly, he did not give due importance to anyone of them and right from the State unit to the block level brought in people who had little or no standing at all. One of them, stage personality Amir Raza Husain even quit the party after speaking out against Modi,’’ complained a party leader affiliated to the RSS.
A BJP leader said what is also going against Mr. Goel is the general refrain that he is surrounded by business-minded people and has distanced himself from the genuine workers. ``We even fear that party seats could be traded,’’ he said.
Mr. Goel, however, has been countering these claims by saying that as far as the State team went, he wanted people he could work with ease. ``The party has to function. We have done so well when it comes to organising protests on various issues. From protests at Jantar Mantar (a reference to his predecessor Vijender Gupta’s style of protests) we have moved to cornering the government on all issues ranging from price rise to power tariff hike.’’
As for the dissidence within the party, he said, ``the big names you hear are all potential chief ministerial candidates. People talk of dissidence when some leaders meet over dinner or when one walks out an hour before a meeting ends, but what about the numerous meetings that have been convened in the presence of all senior Delhi leaders?’’
As for allegations and fears that seats may be sold or the party may work against some of its own leaders to damage their prospects, Mr. Goel insisted that only a fool would do such a thing. ``Why would any leader do anything that would prevent the party from falling short of the half-way mark. It would defeat the entire purpose. So, all I can say is that we would be working towards having the best candidates for every seat.’’
But it is Mr. Goel’s projection of himself as serious contender for the post of chief minister which has not gone down well with both his adversaries and admirers. ``He was made a party president, but he began behaving like a chief ministerial candidate. Most of the senior leaders now believe that Dr. Vardhan should be declared the chief ministerial candidate. But there is another view which holds that declaring him one before the elections would bring him under attack. The leaders are weighing this option at the moment.’’
It is for this reason that the announcement of the post of chairman of the campaign committee has also been held back. While Dr. Vardhan was the frontrunner for the post, many were opposed to the idea of just giving it to him as a trade-off for peace in the party. ``It is time he is declared the chief ministerial candidate if the party has to do well. Merely making him the chairman will create two power centres,’’ said a dissident.
As for Mr. Goel, several party leaders feel the resignation of his close friend Sudhanshu Mittal as convenor of the party's election cell is an indicator of the things to come. ``While some see it as a move to assuage the hurt feelings of senior leader Arun Jaitley, who has always been opposed to Mittal and whose candidate Vijender Gupta was replaced by Mr. Goel as Delhi BJP chief, the move also shows that within the party even people like president Rajnath Singh and Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj – who were supporters of Mr. Goel – have now changed their stance or distanced themselves.’’
``They feel let down by the manner in which he failed to keep the party together and also projected himself as the chief ministerial face when he was only given the reins of the party to improve its prospects,’’ said a source, adding that Mr. Goel is, however, a senior leader and three-time MP who still enjoys the support of leaders like organisational secretary Ram Lal and would thus have to be accommodated befittingly.