Putting speculation to rest, the Congress appointed veteran political leader Sheila Dikshit as the chief of the Delhi unit of the party, on Thursday, January 10. The move follows the resignation of Ajay Maken from the post just days ago.
The octogenarian leader has led the Delhi administration thrice as chief minister. But her reinstatement at the helm of affairs in Delhi raises critical questions for the party at a time when the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) political capital is rising, as is that of incumbent chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Dikshit is an old war horse and a favourite among party workers, given her in-depth experience. In view of her age and health concerns, the Congress has appointed three working presidents to assist her.
But can an 80-year-old Dikshit prove to be the Congress’ saviour in the national capital at a time when the party is in virtual disarray?
In the 2015 Assembly elections, the party was totally decimated with AAP winning 67 seats and the BJP taking three seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly.
Dikshit had, however, stepped aside in the face of the 2013 electoral debacle that saw the party reduced to just eight seats in the capital city.
After her loss, she was appointed governor of Kerala in 2013 — but she resigned after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Dikshit was briefly given charge of Uttar Pradesh — but quit for health reasons.
Dikshit, who has been CM thrice — 3 December, 1998-1 December, 2003; 1 December, 2003-29 October, 2008; then, 29 October, 2008-28 December, 2013; — is among the last of the veteran Congress leaders in Delhi. She is still seen by many across the capital as the chief minister who meant business, one under whom the national capital saw unprecedented development.
Many experts believe the appointment of Dikshit is a reflection of the seriousness of the Congress about winning back support in Delhi.
But is the appointment of Dikshit going to be enough to achieve that?
According to India Today's Political Stock Exchange (PSE), over the last two months, Arvind Kejriwal has emerged as the clear choice for Delhi’s chief minister.
The popularity of AAP has risen alongside.
About 43 per cent people expressed their satisfaction with the work done by the AAP government in Delhi since 2015.
But senior journalist and political commentator Siddhartha Mishra says there is an important detail that people are missing.
“The vote share difference between the Congress and AAP was to the tune of more than 40 per cent. Two years later, in the 2017 municipal polls, it had reduced to around five per cent and in the assembly by-polls which followed, Congress gained the upper hand,” Mishra said.
While many believe that the appointment of Dikshit is a reflection of the fact that the party has no new narrative to offer at a time when the middle class is ready to believe the idea of a ‘new kind of politics’ by AAP, Dikshit could well be the glue that would be able to keep the party together at a time AAP has been hit by a barrage of desertions and in-fighting.
But it’s not just AAP that Dikshit has to deal with.
There is the BJP too.
The India Today PSE shows BJP Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari as the second favourite for the Delhi CM’s chair. The BJP hold over Delhi is stronger than the Congress' currently — a fact reflected in the municipal election win of 2017.
Would the formal announcement of Dikshit at the helm lead Delhi voters to change their minds?
Whether there is enough time for the Congress to resell the development narrative to the people of Delhi — at a time when support for AAP’s mohalla clinics and educational reforms is growing — it is amply clear that in Delhi, Dikshit is the Congress’ only hope!
Will it be in Congress interest then to join hands with AAP?
Dikshit has made it clear, she is ready to work towards that alliance if Rahul Gandhi and the party so want. But significantly, it was against her tenure that AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, then a fiesty mass campaigner, had raised serious criticism.
Will those days be forgotten?
While that is unclear, it is certain that Delhi is heading for some interesting times!