A game changer or a gamble?

Once it was clear that the BJP could not rely on the ‘Modi factor’ in Delhi and there was no one to take on Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi became the only choice for the party

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:36 pm IST

Published - January 23, 2015 12:32 am IST

TAKING A CHANCE: “The BJP’s Bedi gamble will pay depending on the fortunes of the Congress.” Picture shows the Delhi chief ministerial candidate during a roadshow before filing her nomination for the Assembly election. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

TAKING A CHANCE: “The BJP’s Bedi gamble will pay depending on the fortunes of the Congress.” Picture shows the Delhi chief ministerial candidate during a roadshow before filing her nomination for the Assembly election. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

All its alleged mastery over political strategy notwithstanding, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has continuously been confused about its assessment of the situation in Delhi. The party could not wrest power from the Congress for three consecutive terms, and finally when the Congress collapsed, the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) confused the BJP further. The announcement of former police officer Kiran Bedi as the party’s chief ministerial candidate is the culmination of that confusion and it is more a gamble than a master stroke. It is a different matter that this gamble may pay off and those who found a masterstroke in her projection may claim to have proven right.

The BJP did not know that it would win all seven seats in Delhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Otherwise, how could one explain the fact that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did not contest from a constituency in Delhi? Even after it swept Delhi in May last year, the BJP could not make up its mind on the future course of action regarding the State. The party delayed the elections as long as it could, until a Supreme Court intervention loomed, intermittently toying with the idea of forming a government in the previous Assembly. The party could not make up its mind on whether forming a government by manipulation of numbers in a previous hung Assembly or facing a fresh election would be less damaging for it. The source of this confusion was the unfathomable support for the AAP, and the intractable factionalism in the BJP State unit that has had four presidents in the last three years. Finally, when the elections did fall upon it, the BJP was unsure of its strategy, particularly on the question of projecting a chief ministerial candidate. After the Lok Sabha elections, the party abandoned its long-tested practice of projecting chief ministerial candidates in Assembly elections; it didn’t do so in the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir last year.

Redrawing its strategy

Overbid, overexposed and bruised in the previous season, the AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal were redrawing the party’s strategy well in time, even as the BJP was caught in internal strife and strategic confusion. “Many of our candidates were in an NGO mode in 2013. Now they are no longer novices,” says an AAP strategist. The AAP used the interregnum to separate the grain from the chaff among its own, and announced candidates for all seats by the first week of January, dropping seven MLAs, retaining 21 MLAs and 12 old candidates. Half of its candidates are fresh faces; six are women, five are Muslims and six are Sikhs with an average age of just above 40. Meanwhile, the AAP’s appeal among the middle class has sagged, as they found in Narendra Modi what they had sought in Mr. Kejriwal: an incorruptible, decisive leader. The continuing disapproval among the well heeled notwithstanding, the AAP’s appeal among the poor has only improved. The party’s campaign had sharply been focussing on the point that the BJP had no chief ministerial candidate in the State; it asked whether Mr. Modi would become the Chief Minister of Delhi. Recurring communal clashes in poorer areas of Delhi in recent months divided the poor on religious lines, but its electoral impact may be limited.

Kiran Bedi’s projection has further reinforced the Modi-Shah duo’s command over the BJP overall, getting the party back on track

The BJP sensed the danger and the turning point appears to have been the January 10 rally of Mr. Modi, the turnout for which was underwhelming. The abiding Modi factor in Haryana and Maharashtra had already slackened in Jharkhand; in Delhi, even the scare of anti-incumbency overcame the party. Further exposing chinks in the armour, party president Amit Shah had to cancel a campaign programme as the State unit had not obtained the required police permission. Party State unit president Satish Upadhyay also found himself in a controversy after the AAP alleged that he had business links with a Delhi power distribution company. Once it became clear that it was no longer wise to rely on the ‘Modi factor,’ and that there was hardly anyone in the State unit who had the profile to take on Mr. Kejriwal, Ms Bedi increasingly appeared the only choice. “Not that she is the ideal candidate, but that others are worse swung the situation in her favour,” points out a State party leader. The party refuted this suggestion. “Whether to have a chief ministerial candidate or not depends on the particular situation in a State. But the fact that someone like Kiran ji came to the party, proclaiming her trust in Modi ji ’s leadership actually proves the Prime Minister’s increasing — not decreasing — popularity,” said Shrikant Sharma, the BJP national secretary. Ms Bedi’s projection has sent a stern message to the warring State leaders and further reinforced the Modi-Shah duo’s command over the BJP overall, getting the party back on track.

With a BJP chief ministerial candidate in place, the AAP has changed its strategy overnight, and it will now try to trip Ms Bedi on stage, as her public relations and oratory skills are less than inspiring and are potentially self-destructive. Mr. Kejriwal challenged her to an open debate, but she turned it down saying that the debate can take place after the elections, on the floor of the Assembly. “We shall seek her positions on full statehood to Delhi, electricity pricing, women’s security, ‘ghar vapsi,’ etc. Let the people of Delhi know where she stands on these issues,” said Nagendar Sharma, AAP leader. Since she was a comrade of Mr. Kejriwal in the India Against Corruption movement, which was the forebear of the AAP, the party will not question her on her track record as a police officer or other personal controversies. But unattached individuals and groups are likely to stir propaganda that will question Ms Bedi’s administrative skills and acumen.

The Congress’ worry While it is certain that the primary poles in Delhi are the BJP and the AAP, the Congress’ performance will have a bearing on the fortunes of both. The AAP and the Congress broadly share the same social base; the Congress’s efforts to regroup and revive can damage the prospects of the AAP. Indeed, the Congress is worried about the AAP coming to power, which could mean a death knell to the former. The party’s preference is a hung assembly or a BJP government, in the hope that the AAP will not be able to sustain itself until another election. Congress strategists believe that the more the election is getting local, the more advantageous the situation would be for the party. “That the BJP has to bring in Ms Bedi is an admission that [the] Modi factor is not working. When the contest is constituency-wise, we have a tremendous advantage, as our candidates are more connected to the people than the BJP’s and the AAP’s,” said Ajay Maken, Congress campaign committee chief.

If the Congress reclaims part of its traditional voters who had shifted to the AAP, that will benefit the BJP. In other words, the BJP’s Bedi gamble will pay depending on the fortunes of the Congress.



>>A sentence in an article “A game changer or a gamble?” (Comment, January 23, 2015) said that “The AAP used the interregnum to separate the grain from the chafe among its own….” The correct word is chaff .

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