There are two genus of leaders, those who redefine and those who refine. Narendra Modi redefined the idea of India by combining promises of development and nationalism, while Arvind Kejriwal refined development with promises of soft nationalism. For both men, Indraprastha is the power playground. Though Delhi elects just seven Lok Sabha MPs, houses only about one per cent of the national population and has a geographical area of barely 1,483 sq kilometres, it occupies disproportionate mind space both in India and abroad.
For the past eight years, it is the site of conflict between ‘Marauding’ Modi and ‘Crafty’ Kejriwal. Coincidently, both politicians assumed power in Delhi around the same time. Modi captured the Raisina Hills in 2014. In 2015, Kejriwal halted Modi’s triumphant chariot on the city’s borders by reducing the BJP’s strength to just three MLAs in a house of 70 — the saffron squad had won the capital’s all Lok Sabha seats. Since then, BJP hasn’t been able to tame or challenge Kejriwal‘s popularity as ‘Delhi’s Darling’. Much to the chagrin of the top BJP leadership, he is getting both national and global approbation for the K-model of governance. Foreign dignitaries and Opposition chief ministers make it a point to pay a courtesy call on Kejriwal. He has been getting almost equal, if not more, media exposure as Modi. BJP’s local leaders resemble pygmies who cannot offer even a symbolic challenge to the AAP.
Since Delhi BJP seems to be a lost case, the Modi-Shah combo has taken it upon themselves to showcase works done by the city’s local bodies like DDA, Delhi Police, New Delhi Municipal Council and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) by handpicking pet civil servants whose mission is to build up and project new leaders.
Last week, India’s Power Double adopted a novel experiment, which if succeeds, can revive BJP’s moribund organisation in Delhi. Previously, Shah had posted trusted, tried and tested Rakesh Asthana, a retired Gujarat cadre IPS officer, as Delhi’s Police Commissioner. It may have resembled a routine administrative action, but sent a major political message to disrupt the capital’s energetically elitist social and executive network’s invisible net. Following Modi’s strategy to purge Lutyens culture and personalities from the echelons of power, Shah has set another precocious precedent. Since Delhi is controlled by the Home Ministry through the Lieutenant Governor, he appointed 64-year-old Vinai Kumar Saxena, a former corporate executive as Delhi’s 22nd L-G.
Having started his career from Ahmedabad as a middle-level executive in the Kanpur-based J&K Group, Saxena is a stranger to New Delhi’s political and social circles. While he was in Ahmedabad, Saxena impressed the PM-HM team with his earthy and innovation style of operation as head of an NGO. When Modi became the prime minister, Saxena was brought to Delhi as chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission in 2015. During the past five years, he converted KVIC into a multi-billion organisation and created business opportunities for local artisans and weavers.
The golf-loving Anil Baijal, who survived as L-G for a record six years, was irreversibly ineffective. He owed his job to a former powerful minister who loved Lutyens de luxe. Saxena is expected to take an active role unlike most of the 21 previous L-Gs. The post has usually been held by retired bureaucrats. Four were from the aristocratic Indian Civil Service, 13 from the IAS, two from the IPS and two from the Air Force. Only AN Jha, Jagmohan and Air Vice Chief Marshal HKL Kapoor played an active role in Delhi’s affairs.
While Saxena’s predecessors had massive administrative experience to deal with the capital’s complex administrative structure, he has no background in politics or government. But Modi and Shah appear to have discovered virtues in him, which they couldn’t in any of the babu inhabitants of Lutyens Delhi. Over half a dozen of them had been lobbying hard through RSS, BJP and corporate channels. But Saxena didn’t need such muscle since he had all Modi prerequisites like desirability and loyalty. His first statement after taking the oath indicates that he isn’t going to be another indolent Raj Niwas apparatchik: “Today, I want to tell every citizen of Delhi that a new L-G has been sworn in, but I will work as a local guardian. The people will see me less in Raj Niwas and more on the streets. There is a problem of pollution in Delhi. For tackling this problem, we will work together with the government and the public,” Saxena aims to be more visible than Kejriwal. Baijal never indulged BJP MPs and party officials, leaving them out of all official functions in their own constituencies.
Over the past 25 years, the saffron party has been reduced to the municipal marsh. It could win all the Lok Saha seats thanks to Modi magic, and the municipal corporations because of strong RSS support. However, the BJP has failed to capture the Assembly. For a political outfit that once ruled Delhi for almost a decade until 1998, the BJP had been eviscerated by the Congress earlier, and then AAP, because the former couldn’t produce an efficacious state leader who could carry the cadre and political factions together.
In Delhi’s administrative structure, the L-G plays an important role in protecting the political leadership by making all the stakeholders active partners in development projects. The BJP has been accused of massive corruption and administrative failure in municipal corporations. Its Central leadership feared a massive defeat, should municipal elections be held now; an unaffordable debacle before the Lok Sabha polls. As a preventive measure, the Home Ministry merged all three municipal corporations into one body and chose efficient officers to manage it.
All of them aren’t particularly liked by the Kejriwal government. Since the new MCD would directly report to the Home Ministry through the L-G, Saxena has the unenviable challenging task to take on Kejriwal by hitting the streets, to be more visible than the CM. With the sanguine support of Modi and Shah, he will enjoy financial and administrative backing. Since the PM always participates in all major public events related to new projects or social gatherings, Saxena will create enough opportunities for Modi to be present; the AAP government abhors the attendance of Union ministers and the Prime Minister.
Modi began cleansing the Central machinery, legal system, and academic institutions of all hostile elements soon after he became the PM. His mission of foisting double-engine sarkars has been successful in many states. The state of Delhi, a picayune political palatine but with high stakes is an exception. Saxena is expected to deliver a double-engine sarkar that will enshrine Modi's mind space in the minds and hearts of citizens while making Kejriwal just an attractive but partially powerful bogeyman. There can be only one supremo in India’s supreme city and Modi is leaving no one in doubt who it is. And always will be.
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