New Delhi: For a political party that prides itself on naming its prime ministerial candidate—L.K. Advani—well in advance of the general elections next year, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, has a tough task in Delhi: naming a potential chief minister in the absence of a natural choice, ahead of the assembly polls due later this year.
Ironically, of all the key states going to the polls this year, BJP appears to be really well-placed in Delhi. While the party is expected to face anti-incumbency sentiment against its governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it hopes to gain in Delhi where the Congress party has been in power for a decade.
“The BJP’s dilemma comes at a time when the Congress government in Delhi is reeling under the twin challenges of rising prices and sealing drive (the move against illegal construction in the city),” said Ashok Acharya, a professor at the University of Delhi’s department of political science.
With the political fall from grace of former chief minister Madan Lal Khurana, who was recently readmitted to BJP after being expelled twice for anti-party activities, and the demise of another former chief minister, Sahib Singh Verma, there is no natural choice before the party’s decision-makers, BJP leaders conceded on condition of anonymity.
Leading the pack? V.K. Malhotra, BJP’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, is believed to be the front-runner for chief ministerial nominee. ( S.Burmaula / Hindustan Times)
While BJP’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, V.K. Malhotra, is believed to be the front-runner in the race, the president of the party’s Delhi unit, Harsh Vardhan, the leader of the opposition in the assembly, Jagdish Mukhi, and a former three-term Lok Sabha member from Chandni Chowk, Vijay Goel, fancy their chances as well.
“Malhotra is the most senior of the lot, but the others are lobbying as well,” said a senior party functionary, who did not want to be identified. “There are also rumours of leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley returning to state politics though they deny any such move.”
“Both Swaraj and Jaitley have been Union ministers and are known to harbour national ambitions, which is natural given the expectations that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance could return to power at the Centre in the next general election,” he added.
Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a national spokesperson for BJP,said: “It is too premature to speculate about the chief ministerial candidate. Delhi would definitely be critical for us, among the key states going to polls this year, and BJP in Delhi does have a galaxy of worthy and active leaders.”
Malhotra, on his part, said BJP has not always named its chief ministerial candidates in advance. Of the states where polls were held last year, he said, the party did not project any candidate in Uttarakhand, for instance, while in Himachal Pradesh it backed Prem Kumar Dhumal right at the beginning of the election campaign.
“Yet, we won both Uttarakhand and Himachal. In Delhi, when we had projected Khuranaji much ahead of the 2003 polls, we won only 20 of the 70 assembly seats,” said Malhotra. “Naming a chief ministerial candidate can, therefore, work both ways. In states where our chief ministers go into polls, like in Gujarat, where elections were held last year, or Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where polls are due this year, it is natural for the party to repose faith in the incumbent.”
Sudha Pai, chairperson of the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Political Studies, said the BJP lacked someone of the stature of Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. “There isn’t anybody in BJP quite as charismatic as Sheila Dikshit,” said Pai.
“Moreover, the anti-incumbency notwithstanding, Delhi has progressed a lot over the past decade under this government. So much would depend on the timing of the polls in Delhi and whether inflation is brought under control by then,” Pai added.
Meanwhile, Vardhan said the Dikshit government had failed to ensure even basic amenities. “Whether it be water, power, public transport or traffic regulation, Sheila Dikshit has failed in all departments,” he said.
“We have been exposing the widening gap between her promises and performance, but people, who are suffering every day, are just waiting to exercise their franchise against this government,” he added.
The chief minister, however, is confident. “Ours has been a very responsive and clean government,” said Dikshit. “BJP is very good at trumpeting, but they have neither a leader nor any issues. Who gave Delhi the Metro and all these flyovers?”