21 February 2020 05:29 PM




Kejriwal versus Bedi

NEW DELHI: The daggers are out as the BJP now seeks to stem the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party with former cop Kiran Bedi. AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has almost immediately asked her for a debate on “issues”, an offer that she has declined saying the debate will now be in the Assembly. And of course the Congress party that is really nowhere in the Delhi picture has jumped in with its face for the Assembly elections Ajay Maken supporting the need for a debate in a “television studio that we three all agree to.”

The social media remains flooded with tweets by Bedi in her earlier avatar against the BJP and the Congress. Very soon videos of her speeches will hit the campaign trail, as her opponents work to bring to the fore the BJP chief ministerial candidate’s ‘double speech.’ Kejriwal and AAP have decided, however, not to engage in the personality debate and remain focused on issues where the BJP in their view has a negative balance.

The BJP certainly is not flying high as yet. And the decision to overturn the claims by several old BJP hands for the prime ministerial candidate for a police officer who joined the party just days before is being interpreted in the opposition camp as “an act of desperation.” Leaders of both AAP and Congress told The Citizen that despite not wanting to, the BJP leadership was left with no choice but to bring in Bedi in the hope that she will be able to cut into the Kejriwal resurgence.

Delhi is clearly another important state for the BJP but the factions within have made it difficult for it to present a cohesive whole. It was the last party to declare its list of candidates, and at least 15-20 per cent of the declared seats have been given to AAP or Congress defectors. By bringing in Bedi in the lead the BJP has also returned to its middle class constituency as central to its Delhi poll strategy, with her appeal lying in her professional capabilities as a police officer.

Delhi thus will witness a battle between two former government employees, both making a fetish of being anti-corruption, both working together on this platform for a while with Bedi reportedly falling out with Kejriwal over his decision to form a political party over the India against Corruption movement. Now Bedi herself has joined a political party that she had roundly attacked and opposed, after it promised to make her the Chief Minister of Delhi.

Bedi and Kejriwal are two different personalities. She has the hard demeanour of the cop, is loud, decisive and short tempered. She gives the impression of high competence, but that certainly does not make her popular. She was a high profile cop, being the first IPS officer and brought a zeal and fervour to the job that was quite unprecedented. She once gave an interview to this writer in her busy day while changing from her uniform to civvies for a formal function, and speaking her mind about the difficulties she faced in what was then a male dominated world. She did try and make a difference in whatever job she held, but her colleagues always accused her of pushing too hard, and being over greedy for publicity.

Kejriwal was a quiet officer and really came to be known amongst civil society organisations when he quit and started his Right to Information NGO. Unlike Bedi who had cut a niche for herself much before, Kejriwal came on to the national spotlights only through the movement against corruption, and more so when he formed the Aam Aadmi Party. Soft spoken he is as firm as Bedi, and ruthless in getting what he wants. But unlike her he tries to build a consensus, and revels in his common man image that keeps him accessible and responsive to the masses.

AAP is conscious of the electoral battle having acquired an edge with her candidature. As now the BJP can and will aggressively project a face to counter Kejriwal. Sources within AAP said that the party has taken a firm decision not to be drawn into criticism at a personal level against Bedi, and keep the focus on issues where the BJP is clearly not a very strong wicket. Delhi Statehood will lead the AAP agenda, with the Land Acquisition Ordinance being taken up by the party already in its campaign in the outer parts of Delhi. The sources said that AAP had lost most of the Assembly seats from the outskirts of Delhi in the last elections but was now getting a surprisingly good response in these areas. The Ordinance is fast becoming an issue that can tip the scales in its favour, AAP sources said. The party has formed ‘dehat morcha’s’ this time around to tackle these rural constituencies.

Kejriwal remains strong on power and water issues, as in his 49 days in power he had delivered on this. AAP is now promising a 50 per cent reduction in bills as against the BJP’s 30 per cent. Womens security is a major issue as well, along with education and health that are being addressed in the campaign.

The BJP dissidence against Bedi will result in a low key campaign, according to its members. Individual murmurs have been silenced by a strong diktat from the top with party president Amit Shah clear that he will brook no dissidence on this issue. The BJP will bolster Bedi through a strong campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the difference now being that if it loses these elections the flak will be borne by her and not the PM.

AAP has so far not got the support of the other opposition parties with the Congress party and the six Left parties separately announcing their candidates for the Delhi elections. Last time the Janata Dal(U) had extended support but has still to make its mind known. The opposition vote thus will be divided, although the main battle will be fought between the BJP and AAP in what is still a very close contest.