The Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday decided to field India's first woman police officer Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate in Delhi ahead of crucial assembly elections to counter main opponent Arvind Kejriwal, a move that that allegedly divided the party.
Agencies reported the late night announcement has made some senior leaders of the BJP in Delhi uneasy. A former IPS officer, Bedi, who joined the BJP less than a week ago, will be the party's face in Delhi in the Feb 7 assembly polls, taking on her former anti-corruption stir colleague Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
She will contest from Krishna Nagar seat in east Delhi. It was earlier held by Harsh Vardhan, the chief ministerial candidate in the December 2013 elections and now a union minister.
Making the announcement after a meeting of the party parliamentary board, party chief Amit Shah expressed confidence that the decision will result in the party getting a full majority.
"The BJP parliamentary board has decided that the party will fight the forthcoming polls under leadership of Kiran Bedi. Kiranji will also be the chief ministerial candidate," Shah said at a late night press conference.
"I feel the name that the BJP has decided will meet the peoples' expectations and our decision will definitely lead to victory," he added. Shah said that workers were feeling enthused since Bedi took membership of the party. "It has raised their morale," he said. Bedi joined the BJP Jan 15.
Shah dismissed suggestions that there were differences among party leaders over Bedi's projection as the chief ministerial candidate.
"Every worker is one on this," he said. Hours after the announcement, however, a hoarding of Bedi outside the BJP office here was vandalised.
My 6-S for Delhi~~Saaksher, Swasth, Sakshum, Surakshit, Sanskari and Sabki--Delhi, Meaning-literate,healthy,capable,secure,ethical,inclusive— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) January 19, 2015
My 6 Ps to ensure holistic security to women+~~People(parents principals+) Politicians, Police, Prosecution,Prisons,Press with Govt as HUB..— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) January 19, 2015
Some vandals had cut out the faces of Bedi and party president Satish Upadhyay from a hoarding that was put up outside the office of BJP's state unit at 14, Pandit Pant Marg following the announcement.
The banner showed Upadhyay and Bedi on one side and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on the other with the lines "Kiran Bedi ji ka Bhajapa me hardik swagat hain" (A hearty welcome to Kiran Bedi in BJP) written in the centre.
The incident appears to be giving credibility to some media reports that the decision to opt for Bedi -- considered to be an "outsider" -- over other senior leaders has divided the party, with one section overjoyed and the other left sulking.
The party's decision came just two days before the end of nomination process for the polls to the 70-member assembly.
Bedi has been an anti-corruption activist, a former tennis player and her innings in Delhi Police is still widely remembered in the city. She initiated prison reforms in the Tihar Central Jail when she was heading it.
She has won the Ramon Magsaysay award, an honour she shares with Kejriwal. Both were part of the anti-corruption agitation led by Gandhian Anna Hazare. Since her induction in the BJP, Bedi has talked about her priorities -- as a likely candidate to lead the party's campaign.
Asked about the change in BJP's stance of not projecting a chief ministerial candidate, Shah said the party had also projected chief ministerial candidates in states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
"There is an atmosphere. A decision is taken after taking into account all factors... the political factors," he said.
Before it took decision to induct Bedi and project a local face, the BJP in Delhi appeared to bank mainly on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
BJP has fielded a young party member, Nupur Sharma, to take on Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal in the New Delhi seat in Delhi assembly polls. The party's first list of 62 candidates included new entrants Krishna Tirath and Vinod Kumar Binny.
Former union minister and Congress leader Tirath will contest from Patel Nagar. Tirath got the BJP ticket on the day she declared her association with the party, creating a record of sorts. Binny, a former AAP MLA, will contest from Patparganj.
Those fielded by the BJP also included Vijendra Gupta from Rohini, Jagdish Mukhi from Janakpuri, Karan Singh Tanwar from Delhi Cantonment and M.S. Dhir from Jangpura.
Dhir is a former speaker of Delhi assembly and had won the 2013 election as an AAP nominee.
The Congress has fielded former Delhi minister Kiran Walia from New Delhi. BJP sources said that the list has "20 youngsters" and five women.
‘A Sinking Ship’
Kejriwal termed BJP as a "sinking ship" that had inducted former cop Kiran Bedi to save its face in the event of a defeat. He said the BJP will lose badly in the upcoming Assembly polls in spite of adopting "gimmicks" everyday to avert its defeat.
"BJP knows that it is going to lose this election very badly and this is why this party has finally roped in Kiran Bedi so that she can be made scapegoat.
"But no one can save this party now. This is a sinking ship and yet a new gimmick is being adopted everyday but the party will lose badly. BJP has now started losing its breath," he said, addressing a rally at Seelampur constituency here.
Kejriwal also referred to BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj's controversial remarks where he asked Hindu women to have at least four children, saying that the BJP was "running after women".
"Before the election, BJP leaders promised to provide full safety and security to women, but after poll, this party is running after women. They are asking our women to give birth to four children. I ask them, whether our women are child bearing machines?," he said.
The Aam Aadmi Party said BJP has made Bedi the chief minsterial candidate so that she could be made scapegoat if the party is defeated in the elections. The party said Bedi was not a challenge to AAP and BJP's choice will have an adverse effect on its rank and file.
"BJP has made Kiran Bedi the Chief Ministerial candidate so that she could be made a scapegoat as the party was not confident of its victory because of AAP growing popularity and increasing support base. Bedi is not a challange for AAP," senior AAP leader Somnath Bharti said after Bedi's name was announced a Parliamentary Party meeting of the BJP.