New Delhi: The BJP is likely to announce a chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming Delhi assembly elections in a couple of days.
“An internal survey showed that people want to know who the face of the BJP will be if it comes to power, especially because on the other side there is a clear face in Arvind Kejriwal,” a party source told ThePrint.
“The top leadership is quite receptive to this idea, knowing that there are several factions in the Delhi BJP.”
“Normally, the BJP contests elections with a CM face in states where it is in power — as in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand recently. But in Delhi too we have fought every election with a CM face — it was V.K. Malhotra in 2008, Dr Harsh Vardhan in 2013 and Kiran Bedi in 2015,” a senior BJP leader said.
“We understand that if we fight without a face, Kejriwal will make a hue and cry about it in the campaign.”
The BJP discussed the issue in recent core group and strategy meetings, and came to the conclusion that in a bipolar election, a face is necessary. Here are a few options before the party.
Vardhan is the Union Minister for Science and Technology, as well as Health and Family Welfare. He has a long track record of serving in Delhi — as an MLA for over 30 years, as the president of the BJP’s state unit, and as health minister in the Delhi government.
Party insiders say Vardhan is someone acceptable to all sections of society, including minorities, as proven by his election from the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha seat, which has a sizeable Muslim population.
Vardhan has a clean track record and a down-to-earth image. With him as its CM face, the BJP won 33 seats in the Delhi assembly, but fell short of the majority mark, opening the door for newcomer Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party to form the government with help from the Congress.
Bhojpuri superstar-turned-politician Tiwari is the current president of the Delhi BJP and the MP from North East Delhi. His Purvanchal connection is what makes him attractive as a CM face since Delhi has more than 50 lakh voters who have emigrated from that region of eastern UP and Bihar. These voters have considerable influence on over 20 of Delhi’s 70 seats.
Keeping this demographic in mind, the Narendra Modi government has regularised 1,735 unauthorised colonies, which had been pending for years.
Tiwari’s appointment as the Delhi BJP chief in 2016 was strategic, considering that the city is dominated by Punjabis and traders. A senior leader said the party had consistently won 32 or 33 per cent of the vote-share in 2008, 2013 and 2015, “so if we catch 10 per cent of the Purvanchali vote, we can come to power”.
This vote bank was traditionally with the Congress, but has now transferred to Kejriwal’s AAP.
Goel served as a union minister of state under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government at the turn of the millennium, as well as in Modi’s first term. He has also served as the Delhi BJP chief.
However, Goel is from the Baniya community, and appointing him the CM face would have the opposite effect to appointing Tiwari — it is likely to antagonise the Purvanchali vote bank.
The cricketer-turned-MP from East Delhi is popular among the youth, but lacks political experience. He had said last October that being named the CM candidate would be a dream come true and an honour for him.
Gambhir is a Brahmin by caste, which wouldn’t make for a numerically sound choice. But a BJP leader gave the example of Haryana, where Manohar Lal Khattar was named the CM in 2014 despite belonging to the numerically weak Punjabi community.
However, the other fear is a repeat of the Kiran Bedi debacle of 2015 — the BJP made the former IPS officer the CM face despite a lack of political experience, and ended up with just three seats out of 70 as the AAP swept to power.
The West Delhi MP is the son of former Delhi CM Sahib Singh Verma, and a strong Jat leader. Verma’s constituency has Jat, Punjabi and Purvanchali voters, and he has received praise for his organisational strength in the western and south-western parts of the city. But he is another contender whose chances will be spoiled by the Purvanchali factor.
Vardhan and Tiwari the front-runners
Clearly, the battle for the CM candidacy seems to be between Vardhan and Tiwari, with the latter holding the advantage due to the Purvanchali factor.
In the 2017 MCD polls, BJP had given tickets to 43 Purvanchali candidates, winning 34. On the other side, 13 AAP MLAs are also from the same community.