Winning Delhi polls a prestige issue for BJP

The Delhi Assembly Election 2015 is turning out to be the most gripping, charged up electoral battle in recent times, especially after last year’s Lok Sabha polls, which saw the emergence of a ‘new’ Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi.

Winning the battle in Delhi is now a matter of esteem for the BJP, which is riding high on confidence after back-to-back victories in General Elections and Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and an emphatic performance in Jammu and Kashmir. However, the Delhi scenario is completely different from the above-mentioned states.

Undoubtedly, the big contest is between the BJP and Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party (AAP). While it is a matter of prestige for the BJP, the AAP, on the other hand is fighting to remain relevant in electoral politics.

Initially, the Modi-Shah combine found it hard to project a persona, who could pose a challenge to activist-turned politician Arvind Kejriwal.

However, by projecting the country’s first woman IPS officer Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate at the last minute, the BJP seems to have gotten even with the AAP in the clash of personalities, forcing the latter to change its strategy.

The sudden induction of the 65-year-old Bedi is a clear indication that the BJP leadership - Modi and Amit Shah – have understood that Delhi wasn’t going to be an easy battle to be won like Jharkhand or Maharashtra and to some extent J&K. All the three states had governments which were marred with corruption allegations, as a result of which public angst against them was at its peak at the time of election in those states. Also, besides J&K, the battle was largely between the BJP and the down and out Congress, ensuring relatively easy wins for the saffron party.

In Delhi the situation is quite different.

Highs and lows of BJP

Since the emphatic performance in parliamentary elections, Modi's juggernaut continues to roll on and the middle class still believes that Modi is the ‘messiah’ of development, a leader who can put a check on the corruption menace, make the bureaucracy more accountable, provide employment, good education, health facilities, above all a ‘dignified life’ to the teeming masses.

However, Bedi's late induction into the BJP hints that the party leadership is worried that the Modi wave may not be enough to ensure its victory in Delhi.

No doubt, the Ramon Magsaysay winner is a huge hit among Delhiites. Delhi has seen Bedi as an upright officer, anti-corruption activist and a person who has always advocated for women’s rights and security. Who can forget her stint as the Tihar Jail head, when she brought in drastic reforms for the inmates.

With Bedi as it face in Delhi, BJP is trying to attract women voters in particular, in the hope that they will look at the former IPS officer with great hope for a safe and secure environment.

The BJP also calculates that the disenchantment within some sections of the middle class against Kejriwal for having left them in lurch by quitting as CM in 49 days.

Also, the BJP understands that AAP remains a force in Delhi - AAP secured 33 percent of the vote share as against 46 secured by the BJP in Lok Sabha polls.

Adding to the BJP's worries on the strong murmurs of rebellion against Bedi within the party and the long standing factionalism in the party's state unit. Leaders like Jagdish Mukhi, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Satish Upadhyay, Vijay Goel and Dr Harsh Vardhan, who have for long nurtured CM ambitions had to make way for Bedi. Party workers termed Bedi's entry as ‘parachuting’ of an ‘outsider’.

The internal rift was visible when supporters of Delhi BJP unit president Satish Upadhyay staged a protest outside party headquarters, reportedly miffed over their leader being not named as the party's CM candidate.

Also, BJP was embarrassed just days before the polls when its CM candidate Kiran Bedi's political aide Narendra Tandon quit the party accusing her of adopting a "dictatorial" attitude. While he withdrew his resignation within hours, his action did brought to the fore once again discontent in the party over Bedi's candidature. 

The BJP has turned the fascinating Delhi battle into a presidential-style contest between Bedi and her former anti-corruption stir colleague Kejriwal. But here, the national party really has something to worry about; Delhiites may have a grouse against Kejriwal over his resignation, but most opinion polls have also predicted that the AAP convenor is still the most popular choice to lead Delhi.

The BJP cannot take AAP lightly given its strength in certain areas like slum clusters and outer Delhi. The Kejriwal-led party, not only declared the list of its candidates quite early, but has aggressively carried on the door-to-door campaigning for the past few months. The BJP has been lacking on this front.

Though, the party has decided to charge up its poll campaign in the last few days with PM Modi and other senior leaders leading from the front with over 100 MPs having been also roped in. The strategy of the BJP to 'carpet bomb' the poll scene with its party leaders might send a wrong signal to the 'educated' Delhi voters and may be construed as a signal of the BJP being insecure about its performance in the upcoming elections.

Delhi election is the mother of all battles and it's just a matter of time before the picture becomes clear as to whether Delhiites would go by Modi's 'acche din' or give AAP another chance.

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