An elusive crown for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last two decades has been the chief ministership of Delhi. The party could win power only in the first election in 1993, when the Union Territory was granted limited powers after reviving its legislative assembly. The party has tried surprise options experimenting with different combination of leaders and programmes in the next five elections, losing three to Congress and two to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Senior minister Prakash Javadekar, who likes being entrusted with lots of portfolios as well as party assignments, is the man on whom the hopes have been pinned this time. Javadekar had been in-charge of elections in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Maharashtra in the last two years, with mixed results for the party.
Interestingly diplomat-turned-politician Hardeep Puri, who was in-charge of the party's Lok Sabha election strategy, has been pushing the policy changes to make the electoral environment congenial for the party. As Union urban development minister, Puri piloted the moves to grant recognition to the city's illegal colonies, with a good number of registered voters. However, when Puri said at a convention of settlers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that party state president Manoj Tiwari will be the chief ministerial candidate, Puri had to retract the statement as other aspirants objected to the view that could be of BJP high command too.
Even though the BJP won all the seven Lok Sabha seats in the national capital less than a year ago due to the Modi wave, the assembly election is a different proposition, against the charismatic Arvind Kejriwal and his highly organised party, AAP. Kejriwal, who formed a short-term government with outside support of Congress in 2013, had won a massive mandate of 67 out of 70 seats in 2015, reducing the BJP to three seats and once-dominant Congress to zero seats. Javadekar and his team, which includes party general secretary Shyam Jaju and Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, has to chalk out a programme to beat Kejriwal at his own game. In the Lok Sabha elections, AAP had floundered as it attempted to forge an electoral understanding till the last minute with the Congress, and had to go alone against the BJP.
But the Assembly elections does not pose such a confusion. Kejriwal and his Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who control the AAP, have already been active on the policy front as well as on hoardings across the city, thus launching the battle for the February assembly elections. They have focused on the AAP government's steps in reducing costs of electricity, water and education for the Delhi voters. While BJP has been claiming there is tremendous feeling of anti-incumbency, Kejriwal has changed his tactics.
From being a harsh critic of the personality and policies of Narendra Modi till a year ago, he has complimented Modi for the Balakot air strike in retaliation to the Pulwama terror attack, and later for ending the privileges for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370. BJP leaders allege that Kejriwal does not want to invite the wrath of hard-core Modi supporters, while Congress has accused him of trying to make a fool of everyone in Delhi.
Delhi has been a hard nut to crack for the BJP as the party has not been able to find a strong urban personality who can appeal to both the sentiments of the middle classes as well as the huge population of poor workers, auto drivers, rickshaw pullers and pavement hawkers. The spike in onion prices was said to be the main cause for BJP's defeat in 1998, though the five-year government had three ineffective chief ministers, though the last one Sushma Swaraj ruled for just a month at the time of elections. The Congress projected its "neighbourhood auntie" Sheila Dikshit to ride the onion wave, and CM Sheila with her focus on infrastructure and good neighbourhoods won two more elections, until she was swept away by AAP's anti-corruption wave in 2013. The Congress has lost every election in Delhi since then, while the BJP has the satisfaction of sweeping the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls as well as two elections for the city's corporations. Now the state government is a priority for Modi, who failed in the first attempt of his prime ministership five years ago.