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Sheila Diskhit’s biggest challenge

india Updated: Nov 17, 2008 00:13 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The current elections to six states may have evoked tremendous interest, given that they are being held just a few months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and their outcome is bound to have a bearing on the fate of the UPA government. However, there is also equal interest on whether Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, seeking a third term in office, will be able to achieve the feat that very few Congress CMs have achieved in the past. One can perhaps count the late Mohan Lal Sukhadia in Rajasthan and the late V.P. Naik in Maharashtra who have been CMs for more than two terms. Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh was humbled at the polls in 2003 after two terms in office.

So, if Dikshit achieves this milestone, she may become even a bigger leader than her present larger-than-life position.

Many of her admirers are already saying that she would be in the reckoning for a higher post, which the Congress leadership may not be able to deny her and thus emerge as the spearhead of the party even at the national level. But even if one believes what her supporters wish her to be, she will have to cross a major hurdle — win the Delhi elections — which appear to be an uphill task in the face of a stiff challenge from the BJP and little support from within the local unit.

The most fascinating thing about this election is that the CM had an overwhelming say in the distribution of the tickets and many say that nearly 90 per cent of seats were given with her approval. In political terms, it means that the capital’s established leaders like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler have ended up with very little on their plate. Ajay Maken, who was once seen as the face that would replace Dikshit as the next CM, has to be content playing second fiddle. The tickets he is claiming he has obtained for his supporters do not even amount to two. Many in the party even dispute that claim.

Similarly, senior minister Kapil Sibal has got his way also in a seat or two with Krishna Tirath drawing a near blank. Such has been the CM’s supremacy that even the DPCC president J.P. Aggarwal ended up playing a virtual ‘guest role’ during the ticket distribution exercise. He ultimately got a few tickets, but party insiders have some interesting tales on that.

With this kind of support from the top leadership, Dikshit has a very tall task ahead of her. She has to ensure that she does not end up like the late Nasikrao Tirpude, the Maharashtra strongman famous in the North for his ‘Sharad Pawar is the Sanjay [Gandhi] of Y.B. Chavan’ remarks. After distributing tickets with Indira Gandhi’s backing in the early 70s, Tirpude himself lost the poll while all his supporters won. It is another thing that Tirpude, who had in the mid-50s, engineered the defeat of Baba Saheb Ambedkar in the Vidarbha region, became the deputy Chief Minister in the late 70s with Vasantdada Patil heading the first coalition government in the state. Tirpude’s example is important because Dikshit faces a very formidable opponent in her New Delhi constituency in former DUSU president Vijay Jolly. Jolly has all that is required to pull off the biggest upset in politics in recent years if he continues to get adequate support from his party.

Dikshit is essentially blowing her own trumpet in most of the election speeches and the party and its president Sonia Gandhi are left in the background. She has led the government since December 1998 when, after losing four consecutive Lok Sabha polls, Sonia Gandhi gave her the chance to head the government. Her opponents attribute her victory in 2003 as ‘match fixing’ since her rival Madan Lal Khurana did not enjoy his party’s wholehearted support. But they forget that to remain in power one requires more than just good luck.

Dikshit is on the threshold of history and faces the biggest challenge of her political life. On one side, there is more success; on the other, a journey into oblivion. Though there are nearly 12 days to go before voting, the odds appear to be loaded against the Congress. Will she complete the hat-trick or will Vijay Kumar Malhotra regain his position as the capital’s top leader. The answer is not far away. Between us.