Goel in Delhi on Monday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Oct. 21: The BJP today appeared to have decided to project Harshvardhan as its chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi polls over Vijay Goel, but sought to delay the announcement till it sets the faction-ridden state unit in order.
“The decision to project Harshvardhan as the chief ministerial face of the party has been taken at the highest level. It will be formally endorsed by the parliamentary board in a couple of days,” a senior leader said.
The leadership is trying to mollify Goel — the state unit chief who has been pressuring the top brass to name him as the candidate — and ensure he does not raise a hue and cry that could harm the party’s image ahead of the December 4 polls, sources said. Senior leaders today held separate meetings with Goel and Harshvardhan.
Publicly, Goel sought to project himself as a disciplined leader and denied reports that he had threatened to resign if he was not picked as the face of the party in the polls. Yesterday, he was rumoured to have walked out of a meeting to finalise the chief ministerial candidate. He had later trashed the reports as “baseless”.
Goel repeated the denial today. “Reports about my resignation are baseless. I never threatened to resign. It is for the parliamentary board to decide the chief ministerial candidate,” Goel said at a media conference today.
But moments later, he dared Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit to a public debate and asked her 15 questions on a variety of issues, suggesting he had not given up after all and still saw himself as the challenger.
Goel sidestepped questions about what he would do if the party did not pick him and sought to keep his chances alive by stressing on “collective leadership”. “Yes… it is always better when senior leaders remain united and go to the people,” he replied when asked if collective leadership would be a better option.
Harshvardhan, a sitting MLA and seen as less aggressive than the seemingly “overactive” Goel who is not a legislator, is preferred as the leadership believes he has greater acceptability among all sections of voters.
The BJP top brass feels projecting such a face is necessary in view of Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign against corruption that appears to have attracted voters.
Also, Goel had lost the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections from Delhi, the last against Congress leader and Union minister Ajay Maken.
But many fear the leadership tussle in the state BJP is certain to cast a shadow on the party’s poll prospects in a state it hopes to wrest after 15 years.
The BJP’s fortunes stand threatened by the rising popularity of the Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
BJP leaders, concerned over forecasts that the AAP would split the anti-incumbency votes against the Congress, fear the outcome could be worse for them if the feuding continues.
Regaining power in Delhi would give the Narendra Modi-led BJP a huge psychological boost as it strives to defeat the Congress-led UPA in the general election due next summer.