Vijay Goel is not Delhi’s man
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An unfortunate side effect of the legitimately increasing hostility directed towards the Delhi Durbar has been a remarkable sense of apathy surrounding the Delhi Assembly Elections.

Arguably Delhi is the most unpredictable of the four Assembly elections scheduled in November. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh seem likely to re-elect their incumbent BJP governments. Rajasthan is expected to swing towards the BJP as well. (Although recent ground reports and polls suggest a dramatic tightening and a resurgent Congress in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.) Delhi however, is anybody’s guess!

Moreover, there is a solid narrative built into the Delhi polls. A three term incumbent Chief Minister whose popularity, at its height, rivaled that of Narendra Modi’s in contemporary Gujarat, seems to be finally running out of steam. Corruption allegations and widespread criticism of her government’s handling of the law and order situation, especially with regard to women, have contributed to a sense of disillusionment in the minds of voters. For the first time in over a decade and a half, the Congress has a realistic chance of losing and the tragedy of this story is an opposition that is not just in disarray but chaos!

Rampant infighting, turf battles, uninspiring leadership and poor strategy have ensured that the BJP is not a serious alternative in the upcoming elections. To continue with the Gujarat analogy, the Delhi BJP is in many ways like the Gujarat Congress – demoralized, ineffectual, ignored by the Central leadership and in its increasing desperation, now starting to sound increasing hysterical and stupid. Also, like the Gujarat Congress that grossly underestimated the personal popularity of the Modi, the Delhi BJP is doing much the same with Shiela Dixit.

While this may not make sense for people that have never lived in Delhi, or lived in Delhi for a short while, the transformation that Delhi has witnessed over the past decade and a half has been both real and significant. The city is unrecognizable to those who last visited before 1998. Reduced pollution, better public transport including bus services and the metro, flyovers and easily the best roads in metropolitan India, increased public sanitation, better forest cover and more parks, a thriving commercial sector including a revolution in the entertainment options and nightlife of the city have contributed towards Mrs. Dixit’s popularity.

Arguably much of this praise is ill-deserved. Many of these projects were either sanctioned by the Central Government such as the new airports and transition to CNG, or just happened to have been implemented during Shiela Dixits term such as the metro. However such arguments do not really matter. The fact remains that politics is about perception. Delhi has witnessed a transformation and rightly or wrongly, most people perceive Shiela Dixit to be the person behind these policies.

She delivered an unprecedented seven of seven seats for the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections with an unprecedented 60% of the vote share, making Delhi amongst the most reliable votebanks in the country. Even after the CWG corruption allegations emerged, at the Opening Ceremony of the games, while Suresh Kalmadi was loudly booed during his speech, Shiela Dixit was loudly and enthusiastically cheered by the crowd when she was introduced.

The larger point that I am trying to make is that the Delhi BJPs attempt to make this election about Sheila Dixit or her personal mal-governance is bound to fail. Most voters, including those that may end up voting for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, would not feel hard-pressed to vote Congress at the state level.

What these elections need to be about is a change of leadership and not necessarily a change of direction. (Unlike the Lok Sabha elections which need to be about both.) Most Delhiwallahs feel their city is heading in the right direction (womens safety being a notebaly exception) and after 15 years of Shiela Dixit would like fresher, younger blood at the helm of affairs, but are not adamant about this, especially if the alternative is inferior.

In this context, Vijay Goel is not Delhi’s man.

All the BJP had to do in this election was to provide a semi-competent alternative leader. With Shiela Dixit at her weakest in years and the double centre-state anti-incumbancy, this should have been a state for the BJPs taking. Increasingly, Vijay Goel is proving that he is not the man for the job.

Handpicked by Vajpayee, he served in the PMO as a Minister of State and had various stints in the Parliamentary Affairs, Sports and Statistics ministries during the NDA regime. In a government that is credited with bringing about amongst the most significant achievements in Indian history, Vijay Goel stands out as a rare Minister who had no significant achievements.

During his stint at the Sports Minister, he happened to sign off on Delhi’s bid to host the Commonwealth Games – something he cannot really take personal credit for. His most significant achievement was to ensure the government paid the medical bills of an injured hockey player. Arguably, not a bad decision but with our crumbling sporting infrastructure and significant challenges in the field, the fact that this was his most significant achievement is uninspiring.

In the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, his signature achievement, beyond several ribbon cutting events, was to change the format of the gate-pass given to visitors and tourists. Not exactly a path-breaking reform!

Vijay Goel’s most significant achievement however has been his central role in the movement to ban the lottery in India in the early 1990s. While it is true that scrupulous lottery dealers did exploit the poor and illiterate, the decision of the state to ban the lottery altogether is part of worrying illiberal trend. As Narendra Modi is winning support across the country with his ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ mantra – Vijay Goel’s ideas stand in direct contradiction. Problems surrounding the lottery in India such as the lottery mafia and illicit ticket sales are law and order problems. Efficient law and order machinery can eliminate these issues. As an insight into Goel’s mind, clearly he has no issues with using the might of the state to simply ban practices he considers immoral, but are voluntarily engaged in by people. This is ‘maximum government, minimum governance’. What is next? Ban textbooks to counter the textbook mafia in Delhi?

Also for a supposed Hindu hardliner, what about Diwali and its long tradition of playing cards that is part and parcel of our cultural heritage? Will he ban that too?

There are rumors that his distaste of letting people make their own decisions extends to alcohol. Will he declare Delhi to be a dry state? Will he shut bars and restaurants at 11pm? Now whether you agree with these policies or not, (and I will admit to finding such ideas ridiculous) a party platform on prohibition could be electorally disastrous in Delhi. If the Delhi Gymkhana stops serving whisky-soda’s, what will every retired bureaucrat, judge and army officer do on a Sunday evening?

When it comes to his policy on power, Goel has in a fit of populist desperation announced an across the board 30% reduction in tariffs. Yes, prices are high but across the board cuts are not the answer. Both Narendra Modi and Shivraj Chahan have achieved close to a 24X7 power supply due to an understanding that people don’t mind paying a little more as long as the power supply is guaranteed. Moreover, you check leakages and cut illegal power supply to complement increasing power generation capacity. Next, you can offer subsidies and cash transfers to the poor who may not be able to afford it. This is the BJP model that is working and being appreciated, why Goel is behaving more Congress than the Congress is baffling.

With several media outlets reporting that despite the recent hike in tariffs, the shortfall and wastage is so great that up to 4 hour of power cuts a day may be a reality in the coming weeks. Not only will Goels populist proposals lead to stagnation in the city’s energy sector (Are we supposed to live with power cuts for the next few decades as long as the prices do not increase?) but he demonstrates a remarkable lack of foresight, new ideas and stands apart from the more sensible routes taken by the BJP states.

Even in his campaign, which has been largely limited to Delhi’s urban villages, he shows a remarkable lack of foresight and fresh ideas. Delhi’s villages are either solidly Congress or BJP and unlikely to electorally budge, the swing constituencies in Delhi are largely the middle-class/upper-middle class colonies of Malviya Nagar, Vasant Kunj (Bijwasan), Karol Bagh, Ambedkar Nagar, Model Town, Shahdra, Patparganj, Chhatarpur etc. These are also areas where even if a few hundred people vote for the Aam Admi Party, the split in opposition votes cam ensure that the Congress will carries each of these swing constituencies and along with its core constituencies’, win the election by default.

What the BJP needs is a push against this candidate and as a concerned Delhiite, please tweet, talk and do anything small or big that you can to ensure that the BJP presents a viable candidate. Rumor has it that several BJP leaders are waiting on the sideline, anyone of which would be a far better candidate.

Delhi needs a Chief Minister with integrity, new ideas, foresight and a future-driven outlook. Vijay Goel is not Delhi’s man!

(Image Courtesy- The Hindu)