The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress continue to be in a dilemma on who should be projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate in the Delhi Assembly elections, which are slated for early next year, but if the Election Commission desires, could be pushed up to the end of October, along with three other states. The Aam Aadmi Party has already stepped up its efforts to retain its hold over the capital, and many veterans are of the opinion that it still has the best chance amongst the three contenders.
However, Arvind Kejriwal’s popularity has come down by a few notches, and he is perceived by a large section as a politician who has been promoting members of his own community, so far as political spoils are concerned. Two out of the three Rajya Sabha MPs from Delhi are from the Vaish Samaj, and even in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the party had fielded two candidates hailing from the same caste, thereby indicating that in the political arena, Kejriwal has his own favourites.
Therefore, it would have to be seen whether the Congress and the BJP decide to project candidates other than the Delhi Chief Minister’s preferred caste, so as to seek the support of various sections, particularly the powerful Punjabis who constitute the most influential section of the electorate. In the past, the BJP had always relied on the trusted troika of Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Madan Lal Khurana and Kidar Nath Sahani, but over the past decade, the saffron brigade has also mostly depended on the Vaish Samaj to throw up leaders, some of whom occupied important offices.
Even presently, three BJP leaders, who can pose a formidable challenge to the incumbent government are from the same caste—Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Union Health Minister, Vijay Goel and Sudhanshu Mittal. In 2013, Harsh Vardhan would have been the CM when the BJP obtained 32 seats, four short of a clear majority. He was the front runner in February, 1996 as well when Khurana resigned as the Chief Minister to express solidarity with L.K. Advani, whose name figured in the Jain hawala diaries. The RSS promoted him, but ultimately his ministerial colleague, Sahib Singh Verma received the clearance from the central leadership.
The issue that arises is that Harsh Vardhan is a Union Cabinet Minister, and thus may be reluctant to opt for the Delhi CM’s post, which is equivalent to that of a Minister of State. It would be a demotion of sorts. Vijay Goel has worked extensively at the grassroots level, but much would depend on his equation both with Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. Sudhanshu languished on the sidelines, since he did not share a tranquil relationship with the late Arun Jaitley. Other than these, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri enjoys wide acceptance and given his vast experience could assist the BJP in several key areas.
There has also been speculation that the BJP may decide to project Meenakshi Lekhi, the Lok Sabha MP, in local politics or could consider Vandana Khurana, daughter-in-law of Madan Lal Khurana for a larger role in Delhi. Vandana, who in quick succession last year, first lost her husband, Vimal, and then her father-in-law, had made an impression on people with her composed demeanour. She is immensely popular amongst the BJP workers in the Kirti Nagar area and thus could be a surprise choice. Manoj Tewari might have won two elections, but the BJP is yet to make up its mind on whether to project a Poorvanchali as the CM candidate from the capital.
In the Congress, the tussle continues and the search has commenced for a leader who can successfully succeed Sheila Dikshit. Party in-charge P.C. Chacko, has been lobbying for Ajay Maken and had recently taken district presidents to meet Sonia Gandhi, who is believed to have been displeased with this arbitrary visit. The names currently doing the rounds include former presidents, Subhash Chopra and Jai Prakash Aggarwal besides Yoganand Shastri and Ashok Walia.
Sheila’s daughter Latika and son, Sandeep have also figured in the party’s discussions but many old-timers believe that if it has to be someone from the former Chief Minister’s family, it should be her sister, Rama Dhawan. In fact, Rama was the one who mostly managed Sheila’s affairs and during her sister’s regime freely interacted with the Congress workers. In other words, she would be the recipient of the goodwill left behind by Sheila as she could readily connect with the workers.
So far as Arvind Kejriwal is concerned, he too would have to do serious strategic thinking and look beyond his preoccupation for his own community. His government has done remarkably well and if performance becomes the benchmark, others would find it difficult to oust him. He would have to thoroughly view the ground situation with an open mind, particularly after a resurgent Congress had gathered the majority of Muslim votes in the city. In 2015, Muslims had supported him since he was, in their perception, the right person to halt the BJP. This time, however, the Muslims are suspicious of him, particularly after his stand endorsing the abrogation of Article 370. Many are addressing him as the “B” team of the Sangh Parivar.
This genre of branding does not warrant well for a man, who, over the years, has built himself as a brand. The BJP has its solid vote bank and if the Congress performs well, the AAP will have its share of problems. Between us.