It is really a first for Delhi, the spectacle of all three parties going into the elections hobbled by internal problems and dissent. The BJP, on a roll after its recent wins, was planning to go hell for leather and capture the Capital, but as always into each charmed life some rain must fall. And that has come in the form of former anti-corruption crusader and uber policewoman Kiran Bedi.
She, along with a few others, signed up with the BJP just as campaigning is getting into full flow. But, she is not any old addition to the party. Barely did she remove the garlands from her neck and scarf down a celebratory barfi or two, she was declared the party’s chief ministerial candidate. In fact, no sooner was she inducted into the party than she got off the block with a tea party at home where all the BJP MPs were summoned. As you can imagine, this did not exactly go down well with them. The few who might have thought that they could throw their hat in the ring were all forced smiles on television while welcoming the entry and immediate elevation of the irrepressible Ms Bedi.
Of course, sensing dissent in the ranks, the party president has issued stern warnings that nothing of the sort would be tolerated along with a few lessons on how to talk to people while eliciting their votes. But, such dissent was inevitable given that Ms Bedi, Ms Shazia Ilmi and the latest entrant Vinod Kumar Binny were only the other day breathing fire and brimstone against Mr Modi. Now, Ms Bedi, never one to let the grass grow under her feet, had discerned great beauty in Mr Modi’s visage. But in a rare departure from the show of solidarity that Amit Shah enforces, those against the rapid promotion of Ms Bedi were vocal in their anger. And when the rank and file are restive, there could be trouble ahead for the party. Ms Bedi, seemingly oblivious to all this, is busy forging ahead, dismissing her rivals as nothing more than people given to creating tamashas.
As for Ms Ilmi and Mr Binny, they are but symbolic gains for the BJP and this is bound to create a bit of kerfuffle in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ranks.
The internal turmoil in the BJP is matched by that in AAP, which seems to have all but abandoned its original anti-corruption platform. In fact, its muffler-clad chief has exhorted people to take money from the other two parties, the Congress and the BJP, and give their vote to AAP. If that is not an open invitation to corruption, I don’t know what is. Arvind, himself on the comeback trail, is facing desertions and also an inability to zero in on any big idea. So, he has fallen back on attacking his rivals and issuing various dares from time to time. The last heard is a dare to Kiran Bedi to debate with him, an offer the former policewoman has turned down as, yes, a tamasha. When asked, as he often is, about his sudden penchant for big bungalows and grandstanding in his previous avatar as chief minister for all too short a time, our Arvind usually says the questioner is some sort of anti-people element. And just in case anyone cares, the sage of Ralegan Siddhi, Anna Hazare, has disowned both this protégés, who are now slugging it out for top honours in Delhi.
Delhi has a huge number of problems, ranging from infrastructure to migration, to haphazard construction to rampant crime. It would be heartening to hear what the different parties plan to do about this. The crime issue is particularly worrying for women. The capital has witnessed the most brutal of rapes and acid attacks. Not even radio cabs are safe for women any more. A rapacious land mafia is very much in evidence and the city’s air quality has become so bad that the Americans have been having kittens about their president having to breathe it during his stay. Apparently, he will now breathe pristine air, thanks to a purifier the Americans plan to install in his bullet-proof enclosure on Republic Day. The PM wants Delhi to be a world-class city, but we cannot even get basic infrastructure in place like street lighting right. This could greatly enhance safety. No amount of help from Michael Bloomberg can bring in smart cities if we can’t get the nuts and bolts right. And it is a bit embarrassing to see that CCTV cameras are being installed on badly lit roads just so Barack Obama can whiz past in safety to his hotel. At the risk of sounding like a Cassandra, I must ask why these streets were not made safer for people, particularly women, before.
The main issue of statehood should also feature prominently in the campaigns of all parties, but unless I have missed something, I have yet to hear any serious discussion on this. I remember the last Congress chief minister famously passing the buck when asked about rising crime, saying that the police were not in her control. The fight today has come down to personalities, that of Mr Bedi, who has Mr Modi’s blessings, and Mr Kejriwal. And, of course, the now familiar mudslinging — you are a liar, you are a coward, you have no experience, and so on.
Delhi needs governance more than ever before, what with it having had no real government for a very long time. As of now, the BJP seems to have an edge, but AAP is proving to be no slouch. Oh and before I forget, the Congress too is in the fray. But, I will be damned if I know what on earth its plank is going to be. Poor Ajay Maken seems to have taken on the mantle of leader of the campaign on his own. The Congress could have showcased the achievements of its government under Sheila Dikshit but I guess that got wiped away when she was beaten by a then fresh Kejriwal in the last elections. And also the fact that her own party seems to have forgotten her. So the Congress, as is its wont these days, seems to be blundering along, unsure of what it stands for and who it will project as its star or stars. The usual rallies by the party’s top brass are on the cards, but it is showing little urgency in even putting up a real fight.
As of now, the main issue is that all parties seem to be consumed by their dislike of each other. Millions of people living in Delhi get by without even basic amenities. What about a few words or promises for them? The issue of migrants is a huge one and apart from blaming them for filth and crimes, what can a government do about them, and for them? After all, these migrants do provide services to the great and the good in the Capital. But in the ceaseless bickering, we are not getting a fix on any of these. An issueless election — that should be a first even by our somewhat dismal standards.