Delhi polls 2013: BJP picks Dr Harsh Vardhan, should AAP be worried?

Will BJP announcing Dr Harsh Vardhan as its Delhi chief ministerial candidate change the prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the upcoming assembly elections? The Delhi state polls have traditionally been a two way fight between the Congress and the BJP. But lack of a leader in the BJP to take on chief minister Sheila Dikshit was a major reason why the saffron party lost three successive elections in the national capital.

Since its launch, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) could afford to challenge the ruling Congress because the BJP had failed to act as the opposition party. Infighting in the BJP was working in AAP’s favour. Those unhappy with the BJP will vote for AAP, continues to be the perception of many observers. But with his clean image and humble attitude, Harshvardhan might disturb the chances of AAP, say experts.

Delhi state president Vijay Goel was a frontrunner for the post of CM candidate. But Goel, known for his autocratic style of functioning, lost the race as the party chose Harshvardhan over him. While the BJP was involved in a slugfest, the AAP got an edge by starting its poll campaign. It also announced the list of candidates. Therefore, the delay in naming the CM candidate has done some damage to the party as it left voters and the cadre in a state of tizzy.

BJP's CM candidate Dr Harshvardhan. PTI.

BJP's CM candidate Dr Harshvardhan. PTI.

“When Arvind Kejriwal’s attack on Sheila Dikshit was at its peak, the BJP was nowhere to be seen. With Harsh Vardhan as its face, the BJP can expect to repair the damage. But it is difficult to assess how much it can compensate now,” said Manish Priyam, political analyst and fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi.

Right after the BJP declared Harshvardhan as the CM candidate, AAP targeted him for not speaking against corruption done by the BJP. “We have so many cases of corruption in Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Harsh Vardhan never spoke about these cases. His situation is similar to that of the prime minister in the UPA regime. While he many be clean, his party is indulged in graft,” AAP founder member and candidate from Patparganj seat, Manish Sisodia told Firstpost. “When the party is corrupt, no face can save it,” he added.

In its opinion polls, the AAP claims to have made inroads among the upper castes and the Sikh community, the two sections which vote for the BJP in Delhi.

BJP won 23 out of 70 assembly seats in 2008 assembly polls.

According to Delhi-based political scientist Bhaskar Rao, Harsh Vardhan as the CM candidate will marginally improve BJP’s tally in Delhi. “This is because, unlike Vijay Goel, he is a leader who can take everyone along. He is not an alienating or polarizing figure,” said Rao. Agreed Subrata Mukherjee, retired political science professor from Delhi University. “Vijay Goel is a noise maker rather than a strategist. The way he approached his party members asking them to make him the CM candidate, goes against democracy. BJP should have decided on Harsh Vardhan’s name lomg back,” he said.

Except traditional Harsh Vardan loyalists, who are just a handful, most of the BJP cadres in Delhi are not in an upbeat mood over the announcement of the CM candidate. They believe that Harsh Vardhan as the BJP CM candidate will only work in AAP’s favour because he is not a popular face who can mobilize masses just forty days before the state goes into polls. A BJP insider said that by making Harsh Vardhan the CM candidate, the party has scored a self goal. “Had the BJP declared a solid leader as its CM candidate, the dynamics would have changed in favour of the party. Even Vijay Goel, with his limited support base within the party and popularity amongst voters, would have increased the BJP’s vote share. But now with Harsh Vardhan as the party’s face, we cannot expect much," said a party worker on condition of anonymity.

A party worker questioned Harsh Vardhan’s ability based on the party’s defeat in 2008 assembly polls when he was the state president. “He could not save the party from a defeat despite his clean image. How can you expect him to work wonders now?” he said.