By Sanjana Ahuja:
As India’s political nucleus gears up for elections, a surprise candidate has been thrown into the assorted mix of babus, bhaiyas, and didis who are not just vying, but dying for a seat.
“Delhi needs a stable, strong, corruption-free government. I have the experience, time and energy to make Delhi a world-class capital city,” Kiran Bedi declared after it became official that she had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and would be contesting in the February 7th elections. Further, on 21st January, she filed her nomination papers from Krishna Nagar Assembly constituency, and made it clear that her aspirations were not limited to merely grabbing a seat; she was aiming for the big league. “The great enthusiasm of people is a clear indication. This area [Krishna Nagar] will get both – a Cabinet minister and the chief minister of Delhi,” said a beaming Bedi on Wednesday.
Kiran Bedi has become a household name in India for her incredible service to this Nation as the first woman to join the IPS. Her painstaking no-nonsense efforts in the fields of reformative policing, prison management, women’s emancipation and anti-corruption led to her being voted ‘The Most Admired Indian’ in 2012 and ‘Most Trusted Woman in India’ in 2010. Her impressive resume, combined with over forty years of administrative experience, should make her a no-brainer candidate for any party. However, the reality of the situation is a bit more complicated than that.
This sudden move has raised a lot of eyebrows for a lot of reasons. The first question one asks is – why is the BJP bringing in new members less than a month before the elections? Can this be read as a sign of nervousness on part of the BJP? To me it seems that the transferring of AAP leaders and Anna’s followers into the BJP is the party’s way of showing the masses that Kejriwal is losing his trusted comrades. BJP lacked any prolific local leadership in Delhi and was probably hoping to sweep these elections on the same Modi vs. Kejriwal plank. However, after their recent rally received a lukewarm response, the rightist party’s leadership knew that some extreme steps must be taken. And hence, they brought in Ms. Bedi: the game changer.
Now, coming to the second issue that is playing on everyone’s minds. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do have some memory of the illustrious Ms. Bedi making some rather frank statements regarding the politics in this country. She has gone ahead and called all our netas ‘chors’ and ‘shaitans’, and in fact accused Arvind Kejriwal of betraying Anna Hazare when the former decided to participate in electoral politics. In 2013, when she was invited to join the AAP, she said (in an interview with Firstpost), “I treat all such suggestions and offers with respect and gratitude. I also understand fully the possible reasons of their requests. But I am unable to accept them as I am by nature a non-political person.”
Even more surprising than Ms. Bedi joining politics is her joining a party which has been alleged of standing for everything she vociferously worked against, including accusations of corruption and nepotism. Kiran Bedi not so long ago publicly humiliated two senior BJP leaders, Gopinath Munde and Ananth Kumar, and proceeded to mock the MPs and their “double-faced utterances”. Moreover, her past tweets revealed that she hasn’t always been an ardent supporter of Narendra Modi, the man spearheading the saffron wave that she has now jumped on.
Does anyone stand for anything any more? Or are even India’s most trusted officials being pulled in by greed and opportunism? Kiran Bedi’s entry into the party seems more a transactional relationship between her and the BJP rather than a transformational one that changed her ideology.
Keeping everything else aside, let us presume for a moment that Kiran Bedi does win the elections and becomes Delhi’s next Chief Minister (as many are expecting her to be). Will she really be able to make as big an impact as she hopes to? I would say no. Not because she isn’t a dynamic and strong woman, but because these very qualities would make it hard for her function within the BJP. Many leaders already seem unhappy about being outshined by a political newbie and short-circuits within that party are almost a certainty at this point. “…Such outsourcing and so much attention to a newcomer is a little unjust for those who have spent their lives as loyal workers of the party,” a founding member of the Delhi BJP told Firstpost on the condition of anonymity.
Also, a cadre-driven and strictly organized party like the BJP lays strong emphasis on unquestioningly following instructions from above, a feat which we would expect Bedi to oppose. “She is rude and arrogant. Her dictatorial tendencies may have an adverse impact on the party’s prospect. It will be difficult for workers to work with her. Since we work under the umbrella of the BJP, we will follow instructions of our leader as obedient foot soldiers,” another leader said.
Her strong election manifesto based on her 6 ‘P’ formula (prisons, prosecution, outreach to people, parents, improving policing, including community policing, and finally, the press), would require a lot of independent decision making power to be left in her hands, something which again would face opposition from the top leadership. Moreover, if she gains such power in the BJP, she would also need to learn to work to keep their allies at the RSS, the VHP, and the Bajrang Dal happy.
So all in all, what I gather from this issue is that the media is over-hyping it and creating much ado about nothing. As Bedi is set to dirty her hands in the cesspool that she once considered competitive politics to be, she can’t really be the Messiah that she envisions herself as, at least not until the internal structures of the BJP are changed drastically. I believe that she could have made much greater changes from the outside by assuming an advisory role, addressing rallies and canvassing for other candidates.
Yes, she has behaved hypocritically. And yes, this move reeks of political opportunism. Maybe she has more in common with all the other netas than she ever realized.