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The battle for Delhi

For the BJP, which essentially has strong roots in Delhi since its Jana Sangh days, a defeat would lead to its diminishing influence in the national capital, writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2009 14:46 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The outcome of the Delhi Assembly elections will be eagerly awaited this time. It could have a great bearing on the future of Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as well as the BJP, a party that is trying to wrest power from her after ten years. In fact, it is a battle for survival for both.

Even though the Congress has decided not to project anyone for the chief ministership, the polls are going to be contested on the achievements -- and failures -- of Dikshit who, if she manages to win the polls, could become a larger-than-life entity in her own party. But if she loses, as may seem to be more likely at this early stage, it will be a major political setback for her ambitions.

For the BJP, which essentially has strong roots in Delhi since its Jana Sangh days, a defeat would lead to its diminishing influence in the national capital. In a way, the BJP may never be in a position again to win Delhi on its own steam, given the changing demographics. It may, therefore, require the help of allies in fighting the Congress.

The BJP had entered the field with its battle-scarred veteran Vijay Kumar Malhotra as its CM nominee. The challenge is going to be enormous since Malhotra, who has been the most successful Chief Executive Councillor (read: Chief Minister) of Delhi, will have to both overcome dissensions in his own party and a strong opposition from the Congress.

He and his party colleagues have to decide quickly whether they were going to involve former CM Madan Lal Khurana in the
campaign even though the party's top leadership has decided to marginalise him. Khurana continues to be extremely popular among BJP workers and large sections of the city. His alienation will, in fact, hurt the BJP's chances.

At the moment, the BJP is relying more on the 'BSP factor' and believes that the presence of Mayawati's candidates will adversely affect the Congress and the BJP may, thus, indirectly gain. But unless the party launches a gloves-off attack on the Dikshit regime, it will fail to make any major gains.

With potholed roads, a dismal power situation and poor water supply along with alleged corruption and governance failure, the Congress government can be a sitting duck. The government has spent vast amounts in generating publicity for its so-called 'achievements'. But Dikshit will have to use all her experience to dispel the perception that her regime was more dependent on bureaucrats and retired civil servants than on elected representatives of the people. Many in the Congress feel that the MLAs were by and large treated like second-class citizens. But then, such things happen in polls.

In fact, the Delhi government will do well if it is able to tell people how many schools and colleges it has opened in the last ten years and how many new government run hospitals and dispensaries keeping in view the growing population of the city have been added. It can also cash in on the growing Metro network made possible by some great work done by E.Sreedharan and his team and flyovers, many of which were conceptualized while Khurana was the CM in the mid nineties.

Similarly, how the government had upheld directions from the court to keep the Delhi air pollution free.

The BJP will need to also recall the tenure of Malhotra during which he had started 19 out of Delhi's 25-odd government colleges. He had given a fillip to sports and the Chatttrasaal Stadium was his contribution as was the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Hospital and many schools. He was the original 'Development Man' who also needs to blow the lid off the questionable regularisation of unauthorized colonies.

People already know Dikshit. Whether they will re-discover Malhotra is to be seen. In 2003, people were inclined to vote for Khurana, but the party was not with him. One wonders whether the people of Delhi will be with Malhotra when the party is with him. Between us.