Harsh Vardhan offers sweets to Vijay Goel in New Delhi on Wednesday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Oct. 23: The BJP today finally named Harsh Vardhan its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, preferring the 58-year-old ENT surgeon over state party chief Vijay Goel who had been lobbying to get the status.
The party, which hopes Harsh Vardhan’s no-nonsense image would help it end the Congress’s 15-year-rule in the December 4 polls, sought to make a big affair of Harsh Vardhan’s projection. Most senior leaders, barring prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, were present for the announcement.
Modi tweeted support for Harsh Vardhan, playing on his stint as health minister when the BJP ruled Delhi from 1993 to 1998. “Congratulations to Dr Harshvardhan… as health minister, his trend-setting polio eradication drive made Delhi polio free & now I am sure he will free Delhi from misgovernance,” Modi said in his post.
Goel, who had been pressuring the leadership till the last minute to project him as the chief ministerial face, appeared to have accepted the decision without fuss. “I welcome the decision. As a disciplined soldier of the party, we will fight together and defeat the Congress,” Goel said, attempting to put up a happy face.
Party sources said Goel had been assured he would be suitably compensated if the party comes to power at the Centre. “Goel has been asked to work and ensure the party’s victory in Delhi and assured he would be suitably rewarded,” a senior leader said.
In a bid to show all was well, Goel was called on stage and made to hug Harsh Vardhan. BJP president Rajnath Singh praised Goel for leading an aggressive campaign.
Modi, too, made it a point to mention Goel. “Under the leadership of Dr Harshvardhan and Vijay Goel, I am confident BJP will do great.”
Party insiders said Harsh Vardhan’s perceived “clean image” led the leadership to choose him over Goel. Internal surveys had showed the BJP would loose the edge if it failed to project a leader with a good image given the impact of Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign against corruption.
Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party is being seen by many as a force that could split anti-incumbency votes, said the BJP was trying to hide its corrupt face. “Vijay Goel had the image of a corrupt leader so the BJP had to change. Like the Congress hides behind Manmohan Singh, the BJP is hiding behind Harsh Vardhan,” Kejriwal said.
Winning Delhi is critical to the BJP’s plans for next year’s general election. A defeat in the capital will send the signal that the Modi magic does not work among urban voters — a section he is touted as having swayed.
Faced with the challenge, the party believes Harsh Vardhan, who earned plaudits as health minister, was the best bet, the sources said.
As minister, Harsh Vardhan set up pulse polio immunisation camps that won him global recognition and later became a norm across the country.
In contrast, Goel lost the last two Lok Sabha elections from Delhi and is not seen as having wide acceptability among the people as a credible challenger to Sheila Dikshit, the Congress chief minister for the past 15 years, or even Kejriwal.