This past Monday, 19 January, the Bharatiya Janata Party announced the names of sixty-two candidates for the assembly elections in Delhi, which are scheduled for 7 February. In an upset to many members of the Delhi BJP, Kiran Bedi was nominated as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
Caught off guard by the protests that broke out in the city the next day, the party acted quickly to stifle any dissent. Senior national leaders made it clear that Bedi was handpicked by Narendra Modi, and those, such as the BJP MP Manoj Tiwari, who had voiced their dissatisfaction with Bedi’s nomination, were made to toe the line. But, if the party believed that this would suffice, then the illusion lasted only till about 4 pm on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, 20 January, supporters of Satish Upadhyay—the Delhi BJP chief since July 2014, who, until the announcement of Bedi’s nomination, was believed to be nurturing electoral ambitions, but was asked to sit out and manage the campaign instead—stormed into the party office to protest against the leadership. Similar news came in from other parts of Delhi, including Rohini, Dwarka and Okhla. Dhir Singh Bidhuri, who wanted to contest from Okhla, but had to forego his ticket in favour of Brahm Singh—a turncoat from the Bahujan Samaj Party—resigned on the same day.
On Wednesday, 21 January, I visited the party office on Ashoka Road to gauge the reactions of the BJP cadre to the unexpected discord. I saw five OB vans parked in front of the BJP’s office, and journalists engaged in some banter with party workers. Harish Khurana, son of former Delhi chief minister Madan Lal Khurana and BJP Delhi’s media in-charge, alternated between mingling with television journalists and going live on news channels to field questions from anchors.
Once the show-and-tell was over by around 2 pm, the compound settled into a mundane silence. But at 4 pm, supporters of Abhay Verma—a Poorvanchali leader from the BJP and the party’s erstwhile candidate from Laxmi Nagar in East Delhi—burst onto the premises to protest his being denied a ticket from the constituency. These disgruntled supporters told me that they were taking Verma’s denied ticket as an insult to the Poorvanchali population—comprising people from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh—who constitute nearly 45 percent of north-east Delhi’s constituency.