By Sunrita Sen
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) top candidate in local Delhi elections is Kiran Bedi, India’s first female police officer and a former tennis national champion.
Handpicked by BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stand for chief minister of Delhi, Bedi has campaigned on a platform of safety for women and development for all.
Bedi is hoping to cash in on Modi’s popularity, but the BJP is hoping her image of a tough cop known for administrative skills, straight talk and social causes will appeal to voters.
She is a familiar figure for Delhi residents, as a high-profile cop.
She also did a series of advertisements after retiring from the police force, including one for blemish-removing face cream and another for detergent, and hosted a reality television show.
Her campaign is stressing trustworthiness, as she is not quite the typical Indian woman with her short-cropped hair, square jaw and tailored jackets in shades of pastel with businesslike collars.
Bedi was at the forefront of the India Against Corruption campaign for an anti-graft bill in 2010-11, working closely with the man who would become her opponent in Saturday’s election, Arvind Kejriwal.
Bedi first opted to stay away from politics when Kejriwal floated his Aam Aadmi Party in October 2012.
“She is in the wrong party,” Kejriwal said recently.
Bedi said she was attracted to the BJP because of Modi’s leadership.
“That’s my choice, and you have to respect it,” she said.
Born in 1949 into a business family, Bedi joined the Indian Police Service in 1972.
Her first posting and several subsequent ones have been in Delhi where she was said to have made areas under her jurisdiction safer for women and taken a tough stand against traffic violators.
Bedi has been awarded the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry and the Ramon Magsaysay award, often called Asia’s Nobel, for her work at Tihar jail during her term as inspector general of Delhi prisons.
Bedi retired from the police in 2007 to focus on her Navjyoti India Foundation, which works with drug and alcohol addicts and street children.
At first, her entry into the race was greeted as a BJP trump card by Shah, but in recent weeks leading up to the elections analysts have expressed doubts about her candidacy.
“Humourless self-righteousness might work for a ‘social activist’ (it might even be a credential), but it is an unattractive quality in a politician,” Mukul Keshavan wrote in a column for NDTV.
“Confronted by an audience or an interviewer, Bedi begins with smiling generalities and ends with teacherly scolding,” Keshavan added.
Bedi’s tough cop image and her preachiness are regarded as little match for Kejriwal’s wit, theatrics and his promise to cut an opaque, centralized, unheeding government down to size.
Most opinion polls leading up to elections favoured Kejriwal.
But voters in India can be unpredictable. The election results are scheduled to be announced Tuesday.