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Delhi Assembly Elections 2015: Can Kiran Bedi counter Arvind Kejriwal?

Updated: Jan 18, 2015, 12:53 PM IST

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed his first rally in the national capital in the Ramlila Maidan on January 10, 2015, the crowd was modest compared to what is generally witnessed at his rallies. It was also modest compared to the first rally that Modi held in Delhi in Rohini Japanese Park on September 29, 2013.

Although it cannot be verified, a section of media claimed that some prominent Delhi BJP leaders did not actively participate to ensure a massive crowd at PM Modi's rally, leaving the central leadership worried. It was also said that some Delhi BJP leaders felt marginalised when posters made for the rally only carried pictures of PM Modi, party chief Amit Shah and Delhi BJP head Satish Upadhyay.

It is no secret that in-fighting, lack of coordination and personal ambitions, among others things, have been plaguing the BJP's Delhi unit for some time now, forcing Shah to tell them to toe the official line of the party and put up a united front. It is also no secret that despite PM Modi's dismissal of Arvind Kejriwal's party as ''anarchists'', the BJP was always fully aware of the challenge that it faces from the Aam Aadmi Party.

And so, in what is being called a master-stroke and a game-changer, the saffron party roped in former top cop and social activist, Kiran Bedi, who joined the BJP on January 15, apparently to take on Kejriwal, who boasts of having a clean image. Kejriwal and Bedi were part of the anti-graft movement led by Anna Hazare to press for the passage of the Lokpal Bill till they fell out later. And though there may be difference of opinions, Bedi is by and large seen as someone with high personal integrity and administrative acumen.

While the BJP has said that they are not projecting anyone as the party's face in Delhi, speculations are rife that Bedi may have struck a deal to be the CM if the numbers are in their favour. It's another matter that we may have to wait a while to see whether she will be able to sway a sizeable chunk of voters in BJP's favour this time.

Also, though a section of Delhi BJP leaders are said to be enthused by her entry and consider her as the best person to take on Kejriwal, there are indications that some others are clearly upset with the fact that an 'outsider' was hogging all the limelight.

The BJP central leadership will have to eventually quell the resentment in the state leaders if it actually decides to felicitate Bedi with the chief ministership.

The fact that Amit Shah and Union Finance Minster Arun Jaitley were present at her induction speaks clearly of the importance that she is being given at the moment.

For the BJP, electoral battle in Delhi is a matter of prestige and it does not want to leave anything to chance. The saffron party clearly lacked a credible leader with mass appeal, even though names of Dr Harshvardhan and HRD Minister Smriti Irani were doing the rounds. Bedi's induction may have filled that vacuum. After having won in Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and putting up a good show in J&K, the national capital is the next stop for the saffron party.

Especially, since it is ruling at the Centre, the BJP would not like to be steam-rolled by a rookie political party. It would surely be a major embarrassment for the PM himself if his so-called magic wanes in front of Kejriwal.

Thus, in the run-up to the polls, the BJP has gone all out to woo the voters, especially the lower middle class, by promising them 24-hour water, electricity supply, concrete houses to all slum dwellers by 2022, legalising all unauthorised colonies, tackling corruption and a slew of other welfare measures. And now, with Bedi joining the party, Shah must be hoping that his trump card works and rattles the AAP.

On the other hand, the upcoming polls in Delhi are a question of survival for the Kejriwal brigade, especially after AAP's poor show in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. After an exceptional show by the party in the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections, the AAP, by and large, lost credibility by misjudging that the 'wave' is in its favour and deciding to contest on over 400 seats in the last General Elections.

Since then, Kejriwal has accepted that it was a 'big blunder' to quit as Delhi's CM 49 days after assuming the office on the issue of Jan Lokpal Bill. He made other mistakes too, like going on a dharna outside Rail Bhavan and threatening to disrupt the Republic Day celebrations, leaving the people confused as to whether he was part of the government or an outsider. But his biggest mistake probably was nurturing the ambition to be the 'PM' of India and challenging Modi from the Varanasi seat.

Now, exactly a year later, Kejriwal and his men are back on streets canvassing in the national capital and explaining voters why he deserves one more chance.

However, much water has flown under the bridge since then till now and AAP now faces a resurgent BJP and a 'super-strong' Modi, even though Kejriwal has a strong support base, especially among the JJ clusters and the lower middle class. Though, Kejriwal extended his best wishes to Kiran Bedi on taking the plunge and joining active politics, he must be worried over the changed political scenario.

Meanwhile, Congress, the other player in the fray, seems to have become increasingly marginalised and irrelevant since the last Assembly polls and poses no big threat to its arch-rival BJP. Whatever the results may be, the voters here are hoping for a decisive mandate this time around so that governance does not become a causality in the national capital any longer, like it has been for the past one year.