Former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, who joined the BJP less than a week ago, will be the party's chief ministerial candidate in the Feb 7 Delhi assembly polls, taking on her former anti-corruption stir colleague Arvind 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, Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah expressed confidence that the decision will result in the party getting 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. "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. 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 was vandalised.
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 BJP's decision on naming Bedi, 65, as chief ministerial candidate came after the party leadership felt that they needed a credible local face to take on Kejriwal, who has strong anti-corruption credentials. AAP finished close to the BJP in the 2013 assembly poll.
The party's decision came just two days before the end of nomination process for the Feb 7 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. 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. Answering a query about Bedi being an "outsider", Shah said that the party had provided platform to people from various fields and they had delivered successfully. "The decision was taken with consensus. It has support of all," he said. Shah said the party would continue to have a tie-up with the Shiromani Akali Dal in Delhi.