The odds are in favour of BJP’s Vijay Kumar Malhotra. Here’s why?
C P Singh is an engineer, a Jatav (Dalit) by caste. He will contest an election for the first time in his life when the Delhi Assembly poll is held in November or December this year. He is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate from Kondli, a working class constituency from East Delhi. All the indications are that he will win what has been a Congress bastion.
Ditto, Kailash Jain, who is the BSP candidate from Babarpur. Jain was earlier in the Congress and has crossed over to the BSP. The entire lower caste base of the Congress in Babarpur has decamped to the BSP.
What do the two men have in common? They are independently wealthy, which is why the BSP has chosen them. In the past, the BSP candidate would be selected solely on the basis of caste and because he wasn’t rich, he would take money from his party as well as the other side and simply retire from the contest.
Now the BSP is selecting not necessarily the most deprived to represent the party; nor is being Dalit the only qualification. The bottom line is the BSP nominee should be a man of standing in the community. That way, it is harder for him to overlook peer group pressure.
For the BSP it is a double whammy. Much of the East Delhi voting population is from UP or Bihar. Of this, a big percentage is the committed Scheduled Caste (SC) voter. After making behen Mayawati the chief minister of UP, this class is determined to replicate this exercise in empowerment in Delhi.
This is the reason why — unless the Congress does a deal with the BSP — the Bahujan Samaj Party will get at least 15 per cent of the vote in the Delhi Assembly elections, will fatally wound the Congress and will enable, admittedly by a narrow margin, Vijay Kumar Malhotra to become chief minister of Delhi.
Not everyone in the BJP wanted V K Malhotra to be the party’s choice for chief minister. But the choice was between Harshvardhan (no charisma, though L K Advani and the RSS wanted him) and Vijay Goel (in a party where the tension has always been between the ‘refugee’ Punjabi post-partition settlers of Delhi and locals, Goel has the unequivocal backing of the latter). If either of the two had been chosen, a rebellion would have broken out and the slender lead that the BJP has over the Congress would have been leveled. But Malhotra’s seniority, it was felt, would keep the ambitions of the other two factions in check. The best man, of course, would have been Jagdish Mukhi, currently leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly. But Mukhi is struck by the curse of the office he holds: many in the BJP think he’s far closer to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit than he should be.
At first, Malhotra didn’t want the job: in terms of seniority, he is senior even to L K Advani (having been the equivalent of the first chief minister of Delhi — the chief executive councillor in 1967 — and the first chief minister the BJP’s ever had). For more than three decades, the Delhi BJP was ruled by a three-member Punjabi troika — Kedar Nath Sahni (now a venerable 82), V K Malhotra and Madanlal Khurana. These three never allowed any other leader to come up, including the representative of the locals, Kanwar Lal Gupta and later, Vijay Goel, and a candidate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), O P Kohli.
Sahni has now virtually given up active politics — he was made Governor of Goa when the NDA was in power. The story of how Madanlal Khurana has rapidly and repeatedly shot himself in the foot is too painful to bear recounting here. Once Khurana was out of the party, Malhotra reckoned it was time for him to make his moves. In fact, at one time an inseparable friend of Khurana’s, Malhotra became his biggest critic.
2004 capped a string of electoral successes of V K Malhotra. He was a member of the Lok Sabha from 1977 to 1980, and then again from 1989 to 1991. He was in the Rajya Sabha in 1994 and at the fag end of the Rajya Sabha term, contested the Lok Sabha in 1999, defeating current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In 2004, the BJP won just one Lok Sabha seat from Delhi; Malhotra’s from South Delhi (he trounced the Congress candidate, R K Anand).
Malhotra’s association with Delhi is his undeniable advantage: he taught at the PGDAV (evening) College and for years groomed students. He also studied at Delhi University himself (Hansraj College, where he was the students’ union president). He derives his influence from the ABVP, the BJP’s student wing.
Not even the most optimistic assessment by the BJP points to a sweep in favour of Malhotra. Everyone concedes that the fight will be a tough one, especially if the Congress indicates Dikshit will continue as CM. But there is anti-incumbency after two Congress terms. Workers say price rise is not an electoral differentiator yet, but bomb blasts most assuredly are.
In the final analysis, some in the BJP say the party might have to go cap in hand to the BSP to seek its help in forming the government. But the nearly 20 per cent ‘undecided’ vote is also unpredictable. If Malhotra can somehow persuade this section to vote for him, well, he might get his sweep, after all.