BJP holds off on CM candidate for Delhi sensing potential squabble
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New Delhi: The central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided not to name a chief ministerial candidate for the 4 December Delhi assembly election for fear that it may lead internal squabbling to surface in the open, but is considering appointing Harsh Vardhan , a senior leader in the local unit, to oversee its campaign.
Vardhan, last month appointed as the head of the BJP’s election manifesto committee for the polls, is a doctor by training who is considered to have the backing of Narendra Modi, the party’s prime ministerial candidate for the next general election.
Vardhan was Delhi BJP president before the 2008 assembly election.
Naming him as the campaign committee chief will still get across the message that he is the front-runner to become chief minister if the BJP succeeds in ending the Congress party’s reign in Delhi after three consecutive terms under chief minister Sheila Dikshit.
“There is a proposal to announce Harsh Vardhan as the chief of election campaign committee because of his clean and non-controversial image in the party,” said a senior BJP leader who is familiar with the development, declining to be identified.
Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram will be voting in elections staggered over nearly a month. The outcome of the elections, to be announced on 8 December, is crucial for both the Congress and the BJP ahead of their face-off in next year’s national polls.The BJP leadership is confident that the party will manage to beat the Congress this time and avert Dikshit’s attempt to become the first chief minister in the country to win a fourth successive term.
According to the BJP’s calculations, the party should be able to not only cross the half way mark of 35 in the 70-member assembly, but could actually win up to 42 seats with the help of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), its alliance partner in Delhi and Punjab.
According to the BJP’s math, the Congress party will not cross 25 seats in Delhi.
Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) spokesperson Jitender Kumar Kochar said: “I don’t know who the BJP has got the survey done from. Our survey is giving the Congress party 52 seats in Delhi assembly elections. But the real survey will actually happen on 4 December by the voters of Delhi.”
The BJP won 23 seats in the 2008 assembly election in Delhi with a 36.8% vote share, an improvement on its 2003 tally of 20 seats with a 35% vote share.
The senior BJP leader cited above said a perceived anti-Congress mood should help the party make inroads in the 21 constituencies from where it has never won.
“Congress has been in power for three terms so it has successfully managed to build certain constituencies which favour it. We are trying to make inroads in these constituencies,” said Abdul Rasheed Ansari, head of minority morcha (wing) of the BJP.
An internal assessment by the BJP found that in 25-28 assembly seats in Delhi, the winning margin between the Congress and the BJP in the 2008 election was just around 5,000 votes. BJP leaders want to try and concentrate on these seats to try and turn the tables on the Congress this time.
“We will get two-third majority in Delhi this time. It is true BJP has lost all three previous elections, but this election is different because people are tired of Congress at the centre and in the state as well. Delhi is not just a state, it also represents the national mood. So I strongly believe Sheila Dikshit will not come back to power,” said Vardhan.
Although the BJP’s assessment is that the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) would win two assembly seats, senior BJP leaders say if the BSP performs better than in previous elections, it would be at the expense of the Congress.
Of the 12 seats reserved for scheduled castes, the Congress won nine seats, the BJP two and the BSP one in the 2008 election. The BSP positions itself as championing the cause of the backward scheduled castes or Dalit communities. It won one non-reserved seat as well.
BJP leaders claim to be unfazed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal.
“AAP is not a very serious threat to the BJP because people have seen the work done by the party in the last five years and AAP is a new party with very little presence,” said Vardhan.
Political experts who are closely following the run-up to the assembly election believe the AAP—founded after activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaigns mostly against the Congress-led Union government—could benefit from an anti-Congress vote in Delhi.
“There is no vocal anti-incumbency against Sheila Dikshit. It is the anti-incumbency against Congress at the centre that will affect Dikshit more,” said Abhay Kumar Dubey, fellow at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.
Dubey said this is the first election in Delhi where three or more political parties are looking to play a decisive role. “Both BJP and Congress party would have anticipated the emergence of AAP because of the popular public support it has received through its anti-corruption stand,” Dubey said.
Anuja contributed to this story.