In choosing Vijay Kumar Malhotra as its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, the BJP’s central leadership has opted for experience and seniority in order to quell factionalism in the party.
Malhotra is perhaps the seniormost BJP leader as he had contested his first elections like Bhairon Singh Shekhawat for the Jana Sangh way back in 1952 much before both Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani joined active electoral politics.
Malhotra has huge experience and is regarded as Delhi’s most successful Chief Executive Councillor, a post he held for five years between 1967 and 1972. In fact when he was elected as the CEC while in his early thirties, Advani senior to him in age was the Chairman of the Delhi Metropolitan Council.
The first phase of visible development of the city was during his tenure when various parts of Delhi got a face-lift. He also opened about 20 colleges, many schools and hospitals and introduced sports in a big way. Since than there has been not much increase in such institutions.
During the 1972 elections when there was a Congress wave in the whole country following the creation of Bangladesh, Malhotra along with four other Jana Sangh members, including Madan Lal Khurana, managed to withstand the Congress onslaught.
To get him defeated from Patel Nagar, his constituency, Indira Gandhi went door to door in support of her party nominee Savita Behan (actor Manoj Kumar’s mother-in-law) but could not succeed.
The BJP stalwart has won four Lok Sabha elections and has also been a member of the Rajya Sabha. He has the distinction of defeating Dr Manmohan Singh from South Delhi in 1999 and was able to retain the seat in 2004 when the Congress won the other six seats. He hit a lean patch and lost three elections from South Delhi in 1980, ‘84 and ‘85 and then lost again in 1991 from Delhi Sadar. There has been no looking back since.
In choosing him, the BJP has tried to fill the gap left behind by the death of Sahib Singh Verma and the marginalisation of Madan Lal Khurana. There is speculation already that Khurana may now once again quit the BJP and join hands with its adversaries shortly.
Malhotra has been chosen from a field that had former minister Vijay Goel, Delhi BJP chief Harsh Vardhan, leader of opposition in Vidhan Sabha Jagdish Mukhi, among others. At one time, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were also being considered but Jaitley declined the offer.
Tarlochan Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and a close friend of Malhotra, said the choice was in the right direction. With his experience and integrity, the BJP has put forward the best man who can help organise the Commonwealth Games as also put Delhi back on the path of development. “He is the original development man.”
Subhash Chopra, Chairman of the Congress campaign committee, said that by projecting Malhotra, the BJP has made the task of the Congress easier. “There is no doubt in my mind that we will again win. He is a good man but he will not be able to hold his party together and work for Delhi’s future.’’
While the Congress has decided not to project anyone as the CM candidate, it is clear that the polls will be fought on Sheila Dikshit’s achievements and failures. The elections will decide whether the city’s original development man will be able to overcome a spirited challenge from Dikshit, who is also the media’s favourite Delhi leader.