Kiran Bedi has been a constant presence as an avid participant on India’s nightly television news debates these past years, railing with moral outrage against the hypocrisies and misdeeds of politicians and political parties. So it is a particularly stark irony that she has spent the last twenty-four hours squirming and evading an invitation to a public debate from Arvind Kejriwal. She has tried to use every excuse in the book to justify her sudden dislike for the whole concept of debating. With old tweets emerging of her exhorting national leaders to debate in the past, Ms Bedi’s position got even more untenable and indefensible. The transition into the political arena always takes some adjusting, but to do so while also being parachuted in as Chief Ministerial candidate is a tall order indeed, and the pressure appears to be taking its tool on Kiran Bedi’s hard-earned credibility.
Her response to the offer to debate was that she was too busy ‘delivering’ and the debate with Kejriwal could wait till after the election on the floor of the state assembly. She is a new entrant to politics so perhaps she does not fathom that ‘delivering’ is what you do after being elected into government, whereas debating is what is expected from you during an election campaign. When an enthusiastic media did not buy into her first explanation, she went through a litany of more excuses ranging from the illogical to the farcical. My favourite bit was her saying that it was impossible to have 500 debates for 500 news channels, when she was well aware that the invitation was for one debate to be telecast by all channels. She was having a very bad day and the musings of BJP spokesman Sambit Patra only added to the mess the BJP found itself in yesterday. All the while Arvind Kejriwal and AAP were putting on a powerful display with a road show in the heart of Delhi comprising thousands of volunteers on the streets. In contrast the BJP was wracked by dissent in various parts of the city from supporters of those ignored in the ticket allocation, including at its headquarters by the upset followers of the Delhi state President himself. It’s becoming increasingly apparent to one and all that there is only one party in Delhi that has a comprehensive plan of an action for governance and a cohesive leadership team all set to put it into action from Day One. The overflowing crowds attending AAP’s jansabhas day in and day out get absolutely no media attention but are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore especially in the Outer Delhi area, a BJP bastion, that looks like it is about to flip over to AAP after the Modi Government’s scandalous Land Ordinance enraged rural voters.
The brutal truth of the matter is that Kiran Bedi is not ready for the role she has been gifted by the BJP leadership. All doubt on this question was removed with her disastrous appearance on Arnab Goswami’s show last night, where she walked out in the middle of the interview, after she faltered badly in her attempt to answer basic questions about her divinely-inspired political conversion. Her particular brand of antics did not help matters, especially when she began to wave around a blue folders with the PM’s name visibly written on it. Also her habit of speaking about her plans for Delhi in unintelligible acronyms like 6P and 6S only added to the general sense that she was out of her depth. Apart from her greatly reduced zeal for the issue of anti-corruption, there is also a glaring contradiction in her main campaign pledge of promising safety for Delhi’s women, in that she still believes the Delhi Police should continue to report to the Union Home Ministry, which will mean police continues its old ways without reform and without paying much heed to the views of the Chief Minister of Delhi, irrespective of whether the incumbent is a former IPS officer or not. As for her turbulent IPS career, controversy seemed to trump accomplishment at every turn, especially during mid-career postings in Chandigarh, Mizoram and Tihar. As a result successive governments avoided giving her senior posts of consequence, ultimately leading to her premature retirement. This does not disqualify her from the post of Chief Minister of Delhi by any means, but it does mean that voters should take her boasts of administrative excellence with a very large pinch of salt. And even better, it demands that her claims bear the scrutiny of a debate between Chief Ministerial candidates. Could it be that’s exactly why she doe not wish to take part?