BJP's decision to declare Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate is a recognition of the need to project a credible face to take on the challenge posed by AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. Unlike in Haryana and Maharashtra where BJP studiously refrained from naming a CM candidate, Delhi poses a different challenge where Kejriwal has attempted to turn the assembly election into an almost presidential contest in which BJP's lack of a credible local leadership has been called into repeated question. The articulate Kiran Bedi — India's first woman police officer — has a track record as a tough policewoman even if choosing her, an 'outsider' as a CM candidate, is a calculated risk.
The choice may alienate the traditional BJP leadership, yet has the potential to strike a direct chord with the capital's aspirational middle class voters. In a city like Delhi there are limitations to relying purely on the PM's popularity if the local leadership fails to enthuse voters. The Delhi voter is very politically aware and keen to move beyond the dodgy and shopworn politics represented by BJP's Delhi unit. Both CM candidates, Bedi and her rival Kejriwal, are faces of India's new urban democratic upsurge; both joined politics from activist anti-corruption civic movements and both reflect Delhi's vibrant electorate.
In terms of a maturing polity the capital may well be India's urban laboratory. Successive civic movements like the Anna Hazare campaign and Nirbhaya movement have created an engaged voter who may vote on issues other than caste, region or religion. An improving urban infrastructure and new commercial energies have spurred Delhi's growing cosmopolitanism where identity politics is not dominant. In this face off between two Magsaysay Award winners, the national capital has got the electoral contest it deserves.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.