Sees Harsh Vardhan making most of anti-incumbency mood

In choosing Harsh Vardhan as its Chief Ministerial candidate for the Delhi Assembly polls, the BJP, which has been out of power in the national capital for the last 15 years, appears to be responding to the politics, programme and personality of anti-corruption crusader and Aam Admi Party national convenor Arvind Kejriwal.

The BJP President, Rajnath Singh, announced the party’s decision to field Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday.

An ENT surgeon from Kanpur Medical College, Vardhan is a professional like the IITian Kejriwal. Also, both belong to the same Vaishya or Baniya community that dominates the RSS in Delhi. Beyond the tried and trashed lot, the Sangh could not have chosen a better candidate than the 59-year-old doctor from the middle-class locality of Krishna Nagar in East Delhi against the 45-year-old Kejriwal. Vardhan has won four consecutive elections from his home constituency. Like Kejriwal, Vardhan too has a clean track record. In fact, Kejriwal’s first shot at his opponent was to term him, “BJP’s Manmohan Singh in Delhi”, an obvious reference to the Prime Minister’s personal record versus the party’s. Having been in the shadows of veterans such as Madan Lal Khurana and V. K. Malhotra, both Punjabis, it took a crisis of leadership for the BJP to promote Vardhan over the State party chief Vijay Goel. For probably the first time, Delhi will see a tough battle between two non-Punjabi Baniyas, — Vardhan and Kejriwal. Chief Minister Sheila Dixit (born Kapoor) is the only Punjabi left in the race now.

For Kejriwal’s RTI activism and Magsaysay award, Vardhan claims credit for championing the pulse polio programme in Delhi, which was later adopted by the Centre for the nation as a whole. And he has won a World Health Organisation commendation for his anti-smoking campaign in the city-state, another piece of Delhi legislation that became law across the country. But Vardhan’s detractors claim that Vijay Goel, who lost out to him, still could pull the rug under his feet. Though they claim Goel, also a Baniya, could split the caste votes, this seems highly unlikely.

According to Sangh insiders, a strong saffron contender can always woo the estranged Parivar voter or a fence-sitter of the right-of-the-centre disposition. With Vardhan as its candidate, the BJP may not be overly worried about losing the Parivar cadre votes to Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party.

In fact, if the cadre gets enthused enough to work for Vardhan, the BJP will be in an advantageous position as Kejriwal is expected to polarise the non-partisan floating urban votes away from the Congress over issues of corruption.

The Sangh seems to have chosen Vardhan as best suited to maximise the gains of the anti-incumbency mood in Delhi.

rajesh.ramachandran@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 23, 2013)
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