Indian elections are fought in the street, not in the TV studio. On Tuesday, Arvind Kejriwal had missed his date with the Election Commission as his road show turned into a political circus with hundreds of supporters joining him en route. Result: he was unable to file his nomination papers in time. On Wednesday, he made sure that the crowd was modest, so that he did not miss the poll bus again.
Kiran Bedi need not have worried: her turnout was in any case modest, with only senior party leaders Harsh Vardhan and Vijay Goel joining the motorcade, which incidentally was intended to be a show of strength. It is apparent that Bedi, who is known to be a loner, has few friends in the BJP; but friends apart, the cadres did not seem to be there either. Amit Shah will have to pull all levers if he wants the Bedi bandwagon to gather speed. Otherwise, marigold garlands are all that one would get to see in these road shows.
Bedi is forgetting that what had endeared her to the chattering classes was her innate fighting spirit and courage of conviction. By picking a safe constituency, Krishna Nagar, the erstwhile seat of BJP leader Harsh Vardhan, which he had nursed over the last five elections, and by not taking the battle into the enemy camp by contesting against Kejriwal from New Delhi, she has perhaps compromised her own position. To cap it, Bedi offered a tepid explanation for her choice, saying that she is a mere gardener on Vardhan’s turf.
As against this, Kejriwal, who had the benefit of better counsel, made it a point to address a rally in Bedi’s constituency, Krishna Nagar, on Tuesday evening itself. The AAP leader realises that it is all a battle of public perception and, until now, he has been able to convincingly portray himself as a gladiator who is not afraid of stepping into the political arena. Kiran, on the other hand, is sounding too preachy, almost like the headmistress of a small-town school. She will have to do a lot better on the ground: mere gardening won’t do.
In a way, Kejriwal and Bedi have more in common than they realise: on paper, at least. In fact, one would almost mistake them for conjoined twins. Both have come through the UPSC grind; both were disgruntled officers and opted out of civil services; both have been honoured by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation; and both, as anti-corruption activists, were the two sides of the Anna coin (no pun intended). Both ought to be on the same page given the convergence, but find themselves at opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Both also had a reputation of sorts: that they were frank to the point of bluntness. But no longer: not in their political avatar in 2015. Bedi has decided to temper her no-nonsense style of functioning as she wants to be perceived as an achiever, not a street fighter. But, in the process, she is beginning to taste already like a ‘rancid political pickle.’
This was more than apparent when in a TV interview on Tuesday night, like an overgrown schoolgirl, she produced a scrap book of her clippings on Modi — her current inspiration — which she claims to have dutifully compiled. But Bedi, unlike other politicians, is yet to learn the fine art of lying through her teeth. So, no one was taken in by her feeble explanation that it is a ‘mystery’ even to her why she plumped for the BJP, or that she had ‘evolved’ as a person and that explained the change of heart. The voter is not a moron and can see another pragmatic, if not opportunistic politician, in the making.
Bedi had a track record as a police officer which, for reasons good and bad, is part of Delhi’s urban legend. There is no need for her, therefore, to tom-tom her achievements, especially to harp on her 40 years of dedicated service to the police force. Ideally, she should keep her mouth shut and let merit speak for itself.