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Delhi BJP's CM aspirant Dr Harsh Vardhan: all you need to know

Dr Harsh Vardhan has not been a name that has appeared routinely in the political discourse of the BJP over the past few years, or even months, with the party's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi eclipsing the entire party. However, the 59-year-old ENT surgeon from Delhi will be one of the most watched and discussed BJP leaders in the coming days.

With the Assembly polls in Delhi scheduled to take place on 4 December and the BJP witnessing high drama before the declaration of its Delhi chief ministerial candidate, Dr Harsh Vardhan, who has served in several capacities including as a minister during NDA's term in the government, will be shouldering the responsibility of taking on Sheila Dikshit and Arvind Kejriwal together and providing the BJP a much needed fillip before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In a press meet in Delhi today, BJP president Rajnath Singh declared him the party's CM aspirant though he was careful to laud the 'extensive' work done by Vijay Goel.

It appears that the BJP has dished out the Advani-treatment to the much younger, more vocal Vijay Goel in Delhi because the party plans to fight this year's polls more with personality than with politically potent issues. In that scheme of things, Vijay Goel, who has been an aggressive party member and an organisational worker doesn't quite match up to Dr Harsh Vardhan's apparent  popularity among citizens.

BJP's Delhi CM candidate Dr Harsh Vardhan.

BJP's Delhi CM candidate Dr Harsh Vardhan.

To take on the Sheila Dikshit government on issues of development and governance, the party had to come up with someone who could legitimately counter the Congress with experience rather than rhetoric. Dr Harsh Vardhan fills that void for the BJP in Delhi. During the BJP's tenure between 1993 and 1998, he had held several portfolios - that of the health Minister, law Minister and education minister. It was under his supervision that the National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP) was introduced. The project, started in 1997, led to the elimination of the wild poliovirus type 2 by 1999, which caused one of the most debilitating varieties of polio in India.

The surgeon, fondly called 'Doctor Saab' by the party cadres, was elected for the first time from East Delhi's Krishna Nagar constituency and has held that seat ever since. A graduate from the GSVM Medical College in Kanpur, Dr Harsh Vardhan had completed his MS in ENT surgery and then set up a private practice. Being a doctor himself, his focus on health had been one of the high points of the NDA government. He not only launched the polio eradication programme in India, he was instrumental in formulating and implementing one of the first anti-tobacco legislations in India.

An article on him on online journal Bihar Prabha notes:

He was instrumental in  passing the  Delhi Prohibition of Smoking and Non-Smokers Health Protection Act in 1997. Later, the Supreme Court passed an Order asking all states and the Centre to follow suit. Soon, other states followed Delhi’s example, culminating in a Central legislation banning smoking in public places in 2002.

The doctor, who has been a member of the RSS for close to 40 years, had once roped in the RSS, along with 400 NGOs and school children, to spread awareness about polio and oragnise mass immunisation programmes. The former general secretary of the Delhi Medical Association was also awarded for his work in steering anti-tobacco campaigns in India. The Delhi Assembly website mentions:

This attempt received worldwide acclaim and for this historic effort he received WHO’s Commendation Medal in May-1998, at a Ceremony held in Rio-De-Janeiro Brazil.

As reported by Firstpost earlier, Dr Harsh Vardhan's image as a decidedly humble, quiet worker holds the potential of working wonders for the Delhi BJP. With the Assembly polls turning into a shout-and-slander fest between the Congress, BJP and AAP, the soft spoken doctor, who hasn't been seen or heard hurling abuses at political adversaries at the drop of a hat, might be who the fed up, impatient voters will find easy to relate to. Also, faced with the Congress' Food Bill and AAP's no-corruption agendas, Dr Harsh Vardhan's achievements are something the BJP can successfully piggyback on to revive its fortunes in Delhi.

If Vijay Goel and Dr Harsh Vardhan's personal websites are studied to make some broad assumptions, Harsh Vardhan's low on gloss, high on information site conveys a higher degree of knowledge about Delhi and gives a prospective voter a sense of researching a person whose involvement with Delhi is intensive and not cosmetic. Compared to the eight issues that Goel talks about in his website, Dr Harsh Vardhan has 14 with write-ups on each issue supplemented with a video featuring him explaining the same. The effort to engage with the audience, evidently, is more.

While Goel's website dwells on the usual talking points in any political narrative - education, inflation, youth, housing, power etc - Dr Harsh Vardhan focuses on issues typical to Delhi too such as the condition of the Yamuna, unauthorized colonies and public transportation.

Add to that the fact that the only accusation that the party's worst adversaries seem to have come up with against Dr Harsh Vardhan is that he is too good, non-corrupt and straightforward to be the face of a party such as the BJP. In fact, Arvind Kejriwal has been repeatedly been saying that the BJP will use Harsh Vardhan like Congress uses Manmohan Singh to cover up for their misdeeds.

Now, has the BJP gone wrong with choosing that man as their CM candidate? Absolutely no. The anxiety is already apparent in the AAP, we'll have to wait and see what the Congress comes up with as an answer to him.

Updated Date: Oct 23, 2013 14:56 PM

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