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The Lovely effect in east Delhi

Arati R Jerath | New Delhi |

The BJP’s best performance in the Delhi municipal election was in east Delhi where it won 48 of the 64 seats in the EDMC and scored a strike rate of 75 per cent. The saffron surge in this part of Delhi, according to analysts, was a direct result of Congress leader Arvinder Singh Lovely’s defection to the BJP just a week before the poll.

Lovely has deep roots in east Delhi. His father was late Congress leader H K L Bhagat’s right hand man. Bhagat was the man who created east Delhi and built it up as a Congress stronghold. It stayed a Congress stronghold for the longest but now seems to have swung towards the BJP, thanks to Lovely.

Interestingly, at the press conference welcoming Lovely into the BJP fold, party president Amit Shah said the former Congress leader was an important catch, as important as Assam strong man Himanta Biswa Sarma who crossed to the saffron side a few months before the state polls. Sarma is widely credited with scripting the BJP win in Assam which has opened up the North-east as a new catchment area for the party. Sarma is playing a major role in the BJP’s Mission Northeast by identifying vulnerable links in the Congress and wooing them to the saffron side.

Judging from Shah’s comments, Lovely’s role in Delhi may be similar. The BJP lacks strong winning leaders in Delhi, as is evident from the fact that it has not won the assembly polls in the city since 1998. Lovely is in his late forties, has many years of politics left in him, is a popular face in the slums and unauthorized colonies of east Delhi and has strong connections among the city’s influential Sikh community and the SGPC. He is indeed a prize catch for the BJP which wants to build a new leadership in the Capital. No wonder Shah looked so thrilled as he welcomed Lovely to the BJP.

Not to blame

It’s hardly surprising that Rahul Gandhi rejected Delhi chief Ajay Maken’s offer of resignation after the party’s debacle in the MCD polls. Maken was handpicked by Rahul to lead the party in Delhi. His failure is Rahul’s failure as well and his exit would have only amplified murmurs for Rahul’s resignation after the spate of Congress electoral defeats since 2014.

Significantly, the Congress has not accepted the resignations of two other state chiefs under whose leadership the party was routed in recent elections. One is Raj Babbar, UP chief. The other is Sanjay Nirupam who heads the Mumbai Congress unit. Both offered to quit after the Congress was routed in UP and Mumbai’s municipal polls recently.

There is one interesting difference between the three resignation offers. The Congress leadership has remained silent on the letters from Babbar and Nirupam. It neither accepted nor rejected them.

However, Rahul was quick to come out in defence of Maken. He said that Maken had done a great job in Delhi and there was no need for him to step down. It seems Maken enjoys special status with Rahul.

PM’s wife

Narendra Modi’s estranged wife Jashodaben has been raising eyebrows recently with a series of tours to various states. She was in Telengana some time ago where she unveiled a statue of Bhimrao Ambedkar and offered prayers at the Naag temple there.

A few days later, she was in Mathura to offer prayers at the Rangeshwar Mahadev temple. She was next spotted in Bihar. She had two programmes in the state. One was to unveil a statue of Mewar general Bhama Shah in Begusarai on his birth anniversary.

The other programme was in Patna where she addressed a meeting of the Bihar Rajya Tailik-Sahu Sabha. This is an organization of the Teli caste to which she and Modi belong. She made a simple speech at the Sabha, concentrating on social issues like the importance of educating girls for progress and development.

Interestingly, she was accompanied by her brother Praveen Chandra Modi. While the visits have been generally lowkey and not aroused much media attention, her presence has generated interest locally with posters going up announcing her arrival.

Work pays off

The Congress councilor who won from the Andrews Ganj ward in south Delhi in the recent MCD polls, Abhishek Dutt, is living proof that kaam bolta hai. He won by a margin of 4,000 votes, which is probably the highest victory margin of the few Congress candidates who won. And he won only because for the past five years he has worked hard, developed and beautified his ward and made himself available 24 x 7 as a councilor should.

Dutt’s victory is significant because he was pitted against the might of top BJP stalwarts, union minister J P Nadda, South Delhi BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi and senior BJP leader Shahnawaaz Hussain. They weren’t the candidates but they were stationed in the ward right through the campaign period, canvassing for their party nominee like block leaders because this was a prestige battle for the party.

Andrews Ganj ward includes a traditional BJP area, Lajpat Nagar, which the Congress has not won in 65 years. Dutt won this area by a margin of 152 votes purely on the strength of his reputation as a dedicated councilor. There’s a message in Dutt’s victory for the Congress: those who remain connected to their voters will always be rewarded even when there’s a wave for a rival party.