An animated discussion between some Delhi University students on Wednesday night could well summarise the signs of nervousness that the BJP is showing against Arvind Kejriwal. The saffron party had once described him as a political novice who will vanish in to thin air sooner than later. But now here he is, being the subject of the discussion among youngsters.
One of the students felt that the BJP should not have projected Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate and should have fought the polls with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its face because he was still popular.
Others in the group disagreed, saying the PM has failed to deliver on his “tall” electoral promises and the BJP has lost the advantage. And that was the reason, they argued, for the BJP to field its top central ministers and Members of Parliament to campaign in Delhi, a city considered a foundation pillar of the party after partition.
The BJP or its earlier avatar Bharatiya Jan Sangh had strong roots in the national capital and in 1967, Vijay Kumar Malhotra got elected as chief metropolitan councillor --- equivalent to present day chief minister – at the age of 36. The party’s tall leaders such as LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj too had tested electoral waters in Delhi.
The same cadre-based party is now struggling to beat the Aam Aadmi Party. A contributing factor is that AAP has altered the predicable electoral dimension in the national capital dominated by the Congress and the BJP and prone to electoral fixing.
To everyone’s surprise, AAP, in the 2013 assembly election, ate Congress’s vote base more but also captured the swing vote that could have tilted the tide in favour of the BJP. More than a year later, opinion polls indicate that Kejriwal has consolidated his position among lower middle class and the poor and in outer Delhi where the BJP had done well but may have lost its base among the middle class.
AAP has been able to make Kejriwal’s apology for resigning in 49 days, his development plan for the Capital and a viable alternative to conventional politics of the BJP and the Congress reach almost every home in Delhi.
What has aided AAP is the BJP’s anti-incumbency on account of being in power in three municipal corporations in Delhi and de-facto heading Delhi government through Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung since Modi took over the reigns of the Centre.
Kejriwal got a blessing in disguise with the BJP declaring Kiran Bedi as the party’s chief ministerial candidate who is yet to click with the local leadership that opposed her anointment.
The BJP had faced similar disciplinary issues when Sushma Swaraj replaced Sahib Singh Verma as Delhi chief minister in 1998, also when Madanlal Khurana was Delhi BJP face in 2003 and five years later when VK Malhotra was hoisted as the CM candidate.
Projecting Bedi meant that, like the Congress, the BJP had also failed to develop new leadership in the party since its loss in the 1998 polls. In contrast, Kejriwal inspires the younger generation and instills hope despite the disastrous 49-days as chief minister of Delhi.
Whether Kejriwal would be able to translate this hope into votes or his campaign bucks under renewed BJP onslaught will be known only on February 10, when the votes will be counted. Wait and Watch, as a student said, while alighting at Vishwavidalaya Metro station. Wait and watch, indeed.