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 😉 😀 )

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