Win or loss in May, Delhi Congress could witness leadership tussle

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Sheila Dikshit

Sheila Dikshit is Congress’ mascot in Delhi and its valued showpiece outside the capital for the past many years. Time and again, the 75-year-old time-tested leader’s name crops up whenever rumours fill the Delhi power corridors about an impending reshuffle in the Union cabinet. Even political analysts would suggest her name as a possible successor in Home Ministry or External Affairs Ministry. Digging up archives, they would argue she had been a junior minister dealing with Parliamentary Affairs and Prime Minister’s Office around 25 years ago.

Now as she fights for a record fourth term in Delhi Assembly, questions are being raised again whether she will move up the ladder and play a role at the Centre. Speculation has been there for the past many months that after the December elections, Dikshit would move to the Centre. This possibility gained some weight earlier this year after Dikshit herself said that she would like to move to the Centre if the party leadership wanted her to.

Will one see Dikshit leaving Delhi politics for the Centre soon after the Assembly polls or will one have to wait till the Lok Sabha elections are over and see whether Congress-led UPA manages to cobble up numbers to govern India for another five years?

Shoot this question to Dikshit, she will play only the politically correct tunes of submitting herself to the decisions of the party’s national leadership, keeping her cards close to her chest. She would add that she wish to have a less hectic day listening to music, watching movies and reading books. She was asked last Friday whether she wished to serve at the Centre. Dikshit answered, “if we win, MLA’s will decide who they want as the leader and then the high command will take a call on it. However, if we do not win, of which chances are very less, I will go along with the system till Parliament elections take place. After that whatever I will be given I will do that,”

In politics, reading a leader’s mind is a risky business as they could surprise you any moment with an unexpected twist and turn. However, Dikshit, a veteran of many a political battles, has one thing very clear in her mind that retirement is a long way to go. Whatever she does, post May 2014 period could to be a tumultuous one for the Delhi unit of the Congress as a leadership tussle could erupt.

It will be blunder to assume that Dikshit would hang her boots after the Delhi polls, as the stakes are still high for her. A loss in the elections would be a loss of face for her and it would be an uphill task for her to maintain the immense hold she enjoys in the Delhi unit and central leadership. Astute she is, Dikshit may manage to hold on to the leadership still but will have a diminished position. A loss in December could mean she would want to move to the Centre. With this Lok Sabha having a life of maximum six months, the question one would have in mind is that would she leave Delhi for the uncertain future beyond May 2014. Will she remain in Delhi Assembly, trying to consolidate her position in the Delhi unit, put her person as her successor and leaving no space for her detractors.

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Ajay Maken

A loss would also mean that her opponents in the party would take a shot at offsetting Dikshit from Delhi political scene. She had weathered many a storm in the past 15 years when Delhi strongmen like late Rambabu Sharma, Ajay Maken, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler and DPCC chief J P Agarwal tried to cut her to size. Maken bit once and he may not be shy this time. Some senior leaders believe that Maken has an edge as he is now closely working with Rahul Gandhi. But one should not forget Gandhi’s good relations with Dikshit. A diminishing Congress in Delhi state would also mean that Dikshit would have to work a bit hard to position her son Sandeep Dikshit, the East Delhi MP.

A clamour for leadership change is sure if Congress loses the keenly fought polls with BJP and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the fray. Nevertheless, with Congress High Command’s blessings, she may weather the storm this time also, as leadership may not want trouble ahead of Lok Sabha polls. The detractors will have to then wait till the performance of Congress under Dikshit in General elections in April-May.

With the fate of Congress in Lok Sabha polls not sure, she in all probability would like to remain as Chief Minister in Delhi till the Lok Sabha elections results are out. Like any politician, it will be unlikely that she would move to the Centre if Congress is not the ruling party post May 2014. That means a victory in the Assembly polls may also not give Dikshit breathing space if she wants to move to central politics.

If the UPA forms a government and the national leadership opt for a change in Delhi with a willing Dikshit playing along, the capital could witness an intense internal battle for the leadership. Her opponents would sense a chance to have a shot at power.

The High Command had so far ensured that after the rebellion in the mid 2000s that Dikshit’s supremacy is unquestioned. Maken was moved to Centre and after stints in the Union Ministry, he was given the important portfolio of being party’s communication department.

It would be interesting to see how national Congress leadership tackle the issue. If Dikshit is moved up, will Maken remain at the Centre or he moved back to state? Will it be acceptable for the battle-hardened politician that Dikshit is? Who is in Dikshit’s mind to be her successor as Chief Minister if her party is ruling Delhi? In politics, six months is a long time and by then gallons of water would have flown through river Yamuna. However, one can be assured of some interesting political drama after May next year.

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(NOTE: This is one article, which I wanted to publish. However, following a sane advice I decided against it. The advice was that it is foolish to predict politics, it is not the job of a journalist to indulge in “political astrology”, the job is to write about what happened and what is happening. In addition, the article had some loose ends. I have not rectified those loose ends but could not resist in putting this in public domain. Especially after an Economic Times survey claimed that Dikshit may even lose the elections. I do not give much to surveys. At the same time you can’t read the mind of Indian voters. So I am taking a risk and publishing this astrology. Keeping fingers crossed waiting for the unfolding of the political drama 😉 😀 )

Bihar Blasts: The Curious Case of Nitish, NaMo and Governance

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Bombs exploded in and around Patna’s iconic Gandhi Maidan like Diwali crackers in late October, hours before BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was to address a rally at his bitter political rival’s backyard. The usual cacophony of blame game followed as terror made its maiden entry into the city once known as Pataliputra. The security apparatus was quick to put the onus on Indian Mujahideen and arrested some youths they claimed were part of the new Ranchi module of the proscribed outfit. Investigators also believe they are close to solving the July Bodh Gaya blasts.

BJP wasted no time in crying hoarse that Bihar did not act on intelligence inputs provided by the Centre, an allegation denied by the state. Centre also claimed that they had provided intelligence without clearing whether it was specific in nature. This time, the subtle difference was that the BJP for the first time gave credit to the UPA government on intelligence front. In prior incidents, they had only castigated the Centre. This could lead to a question whether BJP’s posturing meant that the accusations earlier hurled at the Centre was just a criticism for the sake of criticism. There always exists a dichotomy on the part of political parties when it comes to intelligence agencies and inputs as is evident in BJP’s recent remarks. May be, BJP had scores to settle with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who walked out from a 17-year-old friendship with BJP.

One with elementary political understanding would know that politics is being played out on security and intelligence issues in an election year and any party would utilize anything that may come its way. In India, police and intelligence agencies tend to become puppets in the hands of parties, which take their turn in the hot seat of power. They are used by their political masters. Top IB officials become troubleshooters for incumbent governments in political missions and one could see the post retirement benefits some of them had accrued. Another set is on the blocks and making all the right noises now to reap some benefits post May 2014 believing that it is BJP’s turn in power.

Strengthening police or intelligence does not mean that we need a police state and there is no doubt that police should be accountable to political leadership. But fear and subservience is not what is expected. One does not want the Delhi Police kind of security like the one witnessed during Commonwealth Games when it did not allow spectators to watch marathon or walkathon from the footpath.

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These issues are not oblivious to Modi or his party colleagues but Kumar and Patna blasts will be a prominent campaign point for them. After the October 27 blasts, BJP went to the town with the governance failure of their erstwhile partner JD(U). A high-decibel demand is being made for providing Modi SPG protection by BJP fully knowing the legal position that a security cover with such a nomenclature could not be possible under existing law. No doubt, the threat perception of Modi is the highest among BJP leaders and he need to be given the best possible security cover. But the partisan debate over the issue is not that enlightening for public who are not aware of the nuances of law. Aim appeared to be whipping up passion and garnering votes and not raising queries on policing and other issues. Like anybody in power, Modi and BJP also want police to dance to their tunes when in power and Gujarat itself is a template in this regard. The remarks of Congress ministers on the matter were also not encouraging and both sides appeared catering to their core constituency by indulging in childish debates. If the quality of political discourse continues to remain the same, systematic change in the security apparatus would also remain a dream.

The verbal volleys after the serial blasts centred around intelligence, its success and failures and security to Modi but the more potent questions on policing or governance remained unquestioned and unanswered. The nature of intelligence input may be of debate. But the question here is not about security apparatus but governance. Even if there was no intelligence input, the Bihar government and police was supposed to provide security to thousands of people gathered for the rally. But that was not done. You may not like Modi and his politics, but a government cannot shy away from providing minimum security to tens of thousands people gathering for a political rally.

It appears that police did not ensure even basic parameters like putting metal detectors or any access control measures, fearing retribution from the Chief Minister as he was opposed to Modi. It is rumoured that a top state police official did not even know about the blasts till a phone call from the Union Home Ministry.

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The blasts pose a query to Kumar, who is credited for the improvement if not a turnaround in Bihar after the Lalu Prasad era, whether political enmity and ideological position should prevent one from ensuring good governance and security to people? Kumar may not find the need for giving security for an opponent but does he have the option of not providing security for thousands of people gathered at Gandhi Maidan just because they support his opponent. To his luck, six crude bombs might have taken only six lives but the offspring of JP movement might have now learned the hard lesson that he has no option.

The blasts also remind Kumar, Modi and his ilk that grand standing, rhetoric and populism is not what people want from them but performance and that is where they are lacking. They have recent examples – the Uttarakhand flash floods, Muzaffarnagar riots, Ratangarh (MP) stampede and Cyclone Phailin —  to choose from on how to act.

(A revised version of an article I wrote in Deccan Herald on Nov 13, 2013)

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