Facing up to the city

The BJP in Delhi has a face. It is not yet clear whether it has the issues.

With the BJP finally projecting Harsh Vardhan as its chief ministerial candidate, the rebelliousness of other contenders, particularly its Delhi party chief, Vijay Goel, has been doused somewhat. The extent of the détente will be gauged by how fast and cohesively the BJP rallies itself to engage on issues that agitate Delhi's voters. Its first challenge is to insinuate itself into the electoral campaign. For a party that dominated Delhi's politics till a decade ago — in fact, the Jan Sangh registered its first success in the city — the BJP has so far been sidelined in the campaign for the December 4 election. It is not just that the new party on the block, the Aam Aadmi Party, seems to have triangulated, at least in popular perception, a traditionally two-sided contest. More visibly, the ruling Congress led by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, carrying the burden of 15 years of incumbency, has been quicker to galvanise its election campaign and initiate the terms of the debate.

Having settled the leadership issue, can the BJP come to terms with the changing profile of Delhi and tease out the issues that confront the metropolis and its environs? Can it present a forward-looking vision? The leadership muddle that has dragged down the party's chances in assembly elections ever since Madanlal Khurana lost his hold in the mid-1990s is reflective of the party's subsequent inability to get a measure of Delhi's aspirations. The struggle between the old post-Partition Punjabi lobby and the more recent assertion of others reflects the party's failure to square up to the city's sprawl and transformed demographic.

Delhi's urban renewal, its desperate need for the upgrade of its social and physical infrastructure, needs to be bound by governance that caters to the millions that have flocked in — and continue to migrate — for a better life and to its longer-term residents who have benefited from the privileged claims to resources that Delhi has always enjoyed. The party that incorporates in its campaign a profile of a city comfortable with change — one that is welcoming of migrants and, equally, invested in the National Capital Region — will strike a chord with the electorate.

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