The Delhi Congress seems to have picked up some bad habits from the Opposition camp. And the timing couldn’t have been worse. With the Congress gearing up for a series of assembly polls leading up to the 2009 general elections, the smear campaign against Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit by three rebel state ministers has seen a pile of party laundry being aired in public. The catalyst to this all-too-visible domestic squall has been a scam involving Delhi Development Authority land that connects the arrested Ashok Malhotra, the alleged kingpin behind the scandal, to elements in the Delhi Congress. What has followed is a churlish attempt to use the scam to taint Ms Dikshit and in the process rearrange the party furniture for a post-Dikshit period. That it took the Congress President Sonia Gandhi to step in and wag her finger at the mutineers just goes to show that this episode has not been the best advertisement for the Congress, both the Delhi unit and beyond.
It has been an open secret that there has been disaffection towards Ms Dikshit and the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee chief Rambabu Sharma from within the party. Messrs A.K. Walia, Haroon Yusuf and Arvinder Singh Lovely saw an opportunity in the ‘DDA land scam’ — with Mr Malhotra’s self-stated links with some Congress MLAs who allegedly helped him get VIP number plates for his fleet of cars — to set a ‘Topple Sheila Dikshit’ campaign rolling. Mrs Gandhi’s intervention has made these scurrying hopefuls go back into the woodwork. But a fair amount of damage, in terms of perception as well as party cohesion, has been done. Ms Dikshit has tided over anti-incumbency and quite a few crises during her chief ministership — whether it be perceptions of how she has handled issues like Blueline buses, power outages and the demolition of illegal structures (an action which, incidentally, came as an order from the courts, not from the government). For a renegade brigade to start pecking at the Chief Minister each time the opportunity arises, does no good for the reputation of the Congress.
The squabbling within various state units of the Congress has always resulted in the party’s diminishing power in these areas — most notably in Uttar Pradesh. Mrs Gandhi’s timely intervention is the way to nip such mutinies in the bud. But at the same time, senior leaders should not shy away from unpleasant facts even if it means the involvement of some of the party’s MLAs. The CBI is investigating possible links between Mr Malhotra and his ‘friends’ in the Delhi Congress. If investigations do lead to unsavoury facts, the leadership should act sternly on them. Intra-party smear campaigns can only get the party dirty, one thing that the Grand Old Party can definitely do without at this juncture.