It's final: Vijay Goel out, Harsh Vardhan is BJP Delhi CM candidate

It’s not official yet but it is final. The BJP will eventually have a chief ministerial face for the Delhi Assembly elections. A four-time MLA and former Union health minister who pioneered the much appreciated Pulse Polio programme and a practising ENT surgeon with the image of a clean and honest politician, Dr Harsh Vardhan will take up the challenge on behalf of his party to take on three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit and Aam Admi Party's challenger Arvind Kejriwal. The BJP president Rajnath Singh is expected to shortly call a meeting of the Parliamentary Board to put the official seal on the decision.Sources said the party leadership was waiting for Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley to return from his two-week tour of  the United States. He is returning to Delhi later today and the Parliamentary Board meeting could be called as early as Tuesday or any day thereafter.


Dr Harsh Vardhan. PTI

Delhi may not have full statehood status but it is symbolically very important for the two main national parties, the Congress and the BJP. It was also for this reason that Aam Aadmi Party chose to make a political debut in Delhi with its almost 100 per cent urban constituencies, relatively small geographical expanse and a population profile made up of migrants from various states and from pre and post partition Punjab. “Dilli Kisi Ki Nahi aur Sabki Hai (Delhi does not belong to anyone yet everyone could belong to Delhi)”, as they say.

Despite exceptions in the past, many still believe that the will of the people of Delhi reflects the will of the nation. It was thus important for the BJP to do a course correction here, even if a last minute diversion is loaded with various possibilities. Still, it’s a risk that the party is now willing to take. Party sources said Narendra Modi is strongly of the opinion that a formal decision on the announcement of chief ministerial candidate, though long delayed, has to be taken now.

Though only late last month, the serving Delhi unit BJP President Vijay Goel had successfully organized a mammoth rally for Modi in the capital, the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate has given his clear consent for Harsh Vardhan. Jaitley's preference is for Harsh Vardhan too. Former party president Nitin Gadkari has been supervising Delhi elections and has  been negotiating with the warring factional leaders for long. It was Modi’s intervention that sealed Goel’s fate, for now.

Modi’s stakes are high in this round of Assembly elections. While the party has strong leadership in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan – Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Vasundhra Raje respectively – it is in Delhi where the BJP does not have a strong local leadership and it would Modi’s charisma that success rides on. For that, Modi would need someone with a clean image to make the desired beginning.

While supporters are making a beeline to make congratulatory calls, Dr Harsh Vardhan told Firstpost, “It was not yet time.” But he is confident of his position: “A decision on whether me or anyone else would be the chief ministerial candidate is prerogative of national leadership. I have full faith in their ability, capability, experience, vision and decisiveness. I am sure they will take a call on this as they think appropriate.” Asked how important it was for the BJP to go into these elections with a clear projection of a chief ministerial face, Harsh Vardhan said, “I strongly feel that in today’s time apart from knowing the party’s ideology, the people like to also have a clear idea of the that party’s face for the top post to assess whether or not he has the potential to be the leader to work for their welfare.”

But hasn’t the BJP already lost too much time and initiative in this triangular battle with Dikshit and Kejriwal, even giving the latter some mileage? Harsh Vardhan said, “It is for the party to assess. My personal view is that we are running against time.” Some other Delhi BJP leaders agree with Harsh Vardhan. But an old wisdom, “better late than never”, is the new guiding mantra for an increasing number of party leaders.

The changing signs are visible as a shift in focus begins to take place from the incumbent Delhi unit BJP president Vijay Goel to Dr Harsh Vardhan. The latter’s home in East Delhi’s Krishna Nagar is abuzz with heightened activity, enthusiastic party workers and ticket seekers crowding every inch of the area.

But Goel is no pushover. He has been in Parivar politics for long, since the time he won Delhi University Students Union elections in 1977-78, then was Lok Sabha MP for three times, a union minister of state in the Vajpayee government and national general secretary of the party.

Goel has aspired to be the Delhi BJP's chief ministerial candidate and has worked for years with that cherished dream. He has been a fighter and has been working hard to mobilize people and reorganize the party. But unfortunately for him he is not seen to be the right face to take on Dikshit and Kejriwal in one go. In fact there are many within the BJP and outside who believe that Kejriwal was able to gain some traction among a section of anti-Congress voters just because Goel was not taken as the right alternative. Though Goel did not have any charge of wrongdoing, somehow public perception on him is hugely mixed.

The other mistake that he committed was to go solo, working full time to project himself as the saviour of the party in Delhi and keeping all other leaders at arm's length either in decision making or in programmes of mobilization. It took to a situation where it virtually became Goel versus the rest in the Delhi BJP. Goel’s close supporters are talking of his wounded pride and the sabotage potential that he may have in the coming elections.

Sources said decision making was delayed precisely for this reason. Senior leaders are trying to convince Goel that it is only in the fitness of things that he cooperate with Harsh Vardhan and wait for his time and turn. He will have a good chance and right in-house credentials in the party during and after the Parliamentary elections that will follow. He is said to have been given a clear hint when he met Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi yesterday, ahead of the Central Election Committee meeting at the party headquarters.

Talking on Goel’s damage potential, a senior BJP leader told Firstpost that “once the decision is formalized he will have no option but to fall in line, if he has to do politics of the BJP. He has a long career ahead of him, he knows that any wrongdoing on his part could cost him heavily. That workers are with the party, they are not his personal fan following. Most of them have already come to terms with the changed scenario.”

Vijay Goel is a seasoned go-getter politician but this time around he has been humbled by a soft spoken, straight, no-nonsense colleague Harsh Vardhan. He can also blame it on his party’s 2008 experience when it lost to Sheila Dikshit primarily because it projected a wrong candidate, Vijay Kumar Malhotra.

Updated Date: Oct 23, 2013 15:13 PM

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