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Home >Opinion >Delhi poll campaign: Parties play out the slog overs

In his long career as a cricket commentator, Sunil Gavaskar has come up with some pretty good one-liners. One of my favourites was his memorable description of a senior Indian player’s laidback approach to fielding. Gavaskar charged him with “escorting the ball to the boundary". This phrase comes to mind when one considers the approach of the Congress in the Delhi Assembly elections.

With less than a week left for polling day, the party finally sent Sonia Gandhi out to bat. While she managed a few lusty hits, the asking run rate for the Congress has long crossed the realm of achievability. Besides, after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it has been losing wickets at steady intervals. The latest one, of former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, has not only come at an inopportune time vis-à-vis the Delhi polls, it also managed to kick up an unpleasant controversy casting aspersions on the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress campaign in Delhi has been marked by schizophrenia. On the one hand, it sees no problem reminding voters of the numerous self-proclaimed achievements during its 15-year rule in Delhi—from the Metro to the flyovers and CNG buses. At the same time, it has avoided projecting the three-term chief minister during whose tenure all the wonderful things it claims are supposed to have happened in Delhi.

This has resulted in an oddly fractured campaign where many candidates are not sure about getting Sheila Dikshit to campaign for them, given that she seems to have fallen out of the high command’s favour. Not that she would have galvanized the party campaign on her own—but this is yet another symptom of a party, to borrow from Gavaskar, that seems to be escorting its candidates to third place.

If the Congress seems to be sleepwalking through yet another electoral match, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), even more strangely, has been dropping catches and gifting full tosses. Probably nothing has boosted the morale of its opponents more than its decision to anoint Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate. It is not a decision that is easily explained, unless one reads it as a masterstroke designed to generate a huge sympathy wave for the BJP.

Bedi’s interview with an NDTV anchor, which went viral, was widely seen as the BJP’s Rahul Gandhi moment, when the political inexperience of the face of its campaign stood exposed.

In hindsight, the BJP’s last-minute decision to induct and project a political newbie as the face of the Delhi campaign seems to have been driven by two considerations. One, a staggering lack of confidence in the leadership of the party’s Delhi unit, and two, a wish to play it safe by going with the formula that has worked for it in other state assembly polls—cash in on an already existing, credible, popular face.

But one aspect that wasn’t taken into account was that the former Indian Police Service Officer, though politically ambitious, energetic and driven, does not seem to possess the savoir faire to rein in her inner cop when wearing the politician’s hat. This weakness became evident most recently with the exit of her campaign assistant, Narendra Tandon, a party veteran who, in his resignation letter, blamed Bedi’s “dictatorial attitude". Latest media reports suggest, however, that Tandon has been pacified and is back in the party.

As for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it would be acutely aware that the contest has now reached the slog overs, with the party facing a barrage of mud-caked yorkers and beamers. While it seems to have learnt from its past mistakes, the AAP has also had its share of wides and overthrows. One such is its quixotic promise of ensuring women’s security by installing 1.5 million CCTV cameras all over the city. This proposal belongs to the same school of so-called fear-nance that its rival, the BJP’s star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi alluded to when he proclaimed that the BJP government in Delhi “will fear Modi and perform".

While there seems to be a sense in sections of the commentariat that the AAP might be home dry, as they say, there’s still a lot of batting to come. Also, there has been no unanimity among opinion polls so far, with some surveys predicting an AAP victory and others handing it to the BJP.

Yet with the BJP pulling out all stops in the final stretch of campaigning, a repeat of last year’s hung assembly cannot be ruled out. In such a scenario—where the BJP is the largest party but short of a majority—once again the only government likely to materialize would be an AAP one with Congress support. But most Delhi voters—irrespective of which party they support—would prefer a clear verdict. They have their job cut out next Saturday as they visit the polling booth one more time to realize their dream of picking a political team that not only bats for them, but also plays out the full quota of overs.

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