Delhi poll: Kiran Bedi appears in danger of losing both the battle and glory

When the German forces were on the borders of France during World War II, its Prime Minister Paul Reynaud sacked his army chief and made a 73-year-old veteran of the first war as the new supreme commander of French forces.

Maxime Weygand, the new commander, was brought out of retirement because the French government believed his past exploits, experience and reputation would help France fight the Germans.

Weygand proved to be a disaster. His plan to fight the advancing Germans backfired and France was forced to sign an armistice.

Is Kiran Bedi turning out to be the Weygand of the battle for Delhi?

The signs are ominous. Bedi's election rallies are not attracting big crowds (according to media reports less than a hundred people attended some of her recent meetings); Arvind Kejriwal is racing ahead in pre-poll surveys, the AAP has an almost 10 percent lead over the BJP; and Amit Shah has been forced to come up with a Plan C, which relies more on Narendra Modi and other party seniors and less on Bedi.

 Delhi poll: Kiran Bedi appears in danger of losing both the battle and glory

BJP's CM candidate in Delhi Kiran Bedi. PTI image

On Wednesday, the BJP decided to send its army of Cabinet ministers into the warzone to campaign for the party. Finance minister Arun Jaitley has been deputed to oversee the campaign and senior ministers have been asked to deal with Kejriwal's charges and accusations. In addition, Modi will himself slog in Delhi over the next few days to resuscitate the campaign.

When Bedi, like Weygand was brought out of retirement, it was argued that she is the BJP's plan B and the party would float to victory on the wings of her charisma and past glory. Within the party, the argument was that it was a masterstroke to ensure that the Delhi election doesn't turn into a Modi vs Kejriwal fight.

It is too early to write off Bedi and only the results would tell us if the Bedi Brahmastra turned out to be mere wet gunpowder. But it is evident that the BJP is replacing, perhaps buttressing, Plan B with yet another strategy and is not willing to leave the fight to Bedi.

Bedi has many advantages: instant recall value, image of a tough, honest officer and her achievements, some of which are genuinely inspiring. But she seems to have lost a bit of the support she enjoyed over the past few days, indicating that Bedi has not lived up to the expectations or the euphoria surrounding her political debut.

According to the ABP-Nielsen survey, her popularity ratings are down by four percent when compared with the results in the second week of January. The beneficiary is Kejriwal, whose ratings have gone up four per cent.

Many factors may have led to the decline in her popularity. Her meek responses to sharp questions from the media, inability to set the poll agenda or attract big crowds and the tactical blunder of running away from a debate and a direct electoral clash with Kejriwal may have been contrary to her image of a brave fighter.

Her ideological confusion (pro or anti Modi) and transgressions (won't join parties whose funding is not transparent) and the intense scrutiny of her past may have further taken some sheen off Bedi. Stripped of some of her halo, she is now sliding down on the popularity charts.

To give credit to Bedi, she may have actually been thrust into the campaign too late. Like Sushma Swaraj, who was made the face of the Delhi BJP just a few months before the Delhi Assembly elections in 1999, Bedi may have been left with very little time to understand the game, devise her strategy and implement it.

The rapid decline in the fortunes of the Congress isn't helping Bedi either. It is apparent that with the Congress being edged out of the contest, its traditional voters-Muslims, dalits and other religious minorities-are queuing up behind Kejriwal. An Economic Times report based on a CSDS survey confirmed the trend when it predicted that the AAP may win almost all the seats where Muslim vote is decisive.

Only a few months ago, the BJP appeared to be the front-runner in the Delhi polls with surveys predicting a clear majority for the party. But, like the French who carried on a 'phoney' war against the Germans for months, convinced that its defences were too strong, the BJP too gave its rival a lot of time to launch his attack.

Like Weygand, even Bedi is in danger of losing both the battle and her glory.

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Updated Date: Jan 29, 2015 10:28:32 IST