Will Smriti Irani be the dark horse in the Delhi chief ministerial race?
While her name has not figured in public speculation over the BJP’s many choices for the top job, insiders say the top leadership may spring a surprise by choosing the Union Human Resources Development minister for the job.
“The top leadership of the party is considering surprising Delhi voters by appointing Smriti Irani as the chief minister. The BJP top brass argues that she is a popular leader and acceptable to common people of the national capital. Most importantly, she is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah,” said a party insider.
The four strong contenders for the job – Union Science and Technology Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, Delhi BJP president Dr Satish Upadhyay, party’s leader from Janakpuri Dr Jagdish Mukhi and Rajya Sabha member Vijay Goel – may be ignored, he added.
This situation, party sources said, is a result of infighting over the chief minister’s chair. There’s no open demand from any of the contenders yet but the intensity of the competition has forced party president Amit Shah to intervene and lay down a zero-tolerance policy.
“Unhappy Shah held a meeting with the party leaders on Monday and clearly instructed them to work with unity for the ‘sangathan’ (organisation) so that a majority mark can be ensured. He also said the party failed to get a clear mandate last time, only because of the internal tug-of-war,” sources close to the development told Firstpost.
“The problem before the leadership is lack of a clear choice. All the contenders are strong in their own way and there’s no way one can be overlooked for another. The best choice is to have someone from outside. Smriti Irani fits the bill here, he added.
“While Satish Upadhyay has good managerial skills, is a devoted party leader and has shown no greed for the top job, he is still not the party’s face in Delhi. Dr Harsh Vardhan is a capable leader for the top job. Under his leadership the party won 32 seats last year. He enjoys the support of people and local leaders but the problem with him is that he does not belong to the Modi camp. If he is appointed as chief minister, he will try to run the government without the intervention of the Centre, which will never be accepted to the party’s central leadership,” another leader requesting anonymity said.
Asked about former Delhi Finance Minister Jagdish Mukhi, who is known to have good equations with all quarters in the party, another source said, “It is true that Mr Mukhi is the seniormost legislator and has extensive experience. But he does not enjoy the support of the party leaders. In addition, his age can go against him as some young members have raised objections over choosing a veteran above young leadership.”
Earlier, an aggressive campaign was launched through posters and social networking sites to pitch Mukhi and New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi for the chief ministerial post. A group named ‘Delhi For Good Governance’ had put up posters to promote Lekhi. Similarly, three dedicated Facebook pages entitled ‘Prof Jagdish Mukhi For Next Delhi CM’, ‘Dr Jagdish Mukhi for CM Delhi’ and ‘Jagdish Mukhi for CM’ had come up in support of the veteran leader.
Interestingly, after Lekhi and former party president Vijay Gupta were completely sidelined, Rajya Sabha member Vijay Goyal has begun jostling for the top job, a senior leader told Firstpost.
Goel was appointed as the Delhi BJP chief in February last year, but his eight-month tenure saw a severe infighting and high level of factionalism with the saffron brigade failing to emerge as the natural alternative to the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government. He was then replaced by Dr Harsh Vardhan.