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The good woman took a fall for UPA II

The anger that toppled Sheila Dikshit was not directed against her performance in Delhi. It was seeking revenge for the corruption and policy paralysis associated with the Central government.

columns Updated: Dec 14, 2013 23:50 IST

‘Do you know the saddest outcome of the recent elections?” In keeping with his question Pertie looked rather glum whilst his voice lacked its usual booming stridency.

“Why don’t you tell me”, I replied, wondering what he would say. Pertie’s sudden interest in politics took me by surprise last week. It’s continuation was perplexing. So I was curious to find out more.

“Sheila Dikshit! You only have to look around to see how much she changed Delhi. Whether it’s the metro, buses or flyovers, the constant supply of power or just the cleaner air, the improved signages and refuse collection, today’s Delhi is incomparably better than the city she inherited 15 years ago. I would say Sheila was the best chief minister the Capital has had and, probably, one of the best in the country.”

“So why did she lose?”, I asked. “In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh the voters retained their chief ministers because they believed they had done a good job. Why did Delhi punish Sheila instead?” Pertie’s first response was a soft sceptical laugh. The sort that suggests I had missed an obvious point. When he spoke, his tone suggested he was speaking to a child.

“Sheila lost because of Dr Manmohan Singh’s government. The anger that toppled her was not directed against her performance in Delhi. It was seeking revenge for the corruption, policy paralysis and economic mishandling associated with the Central government. But Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were not standing. Sheila was and she was felled in their place.”

“But that argument could apply to Ashok Gehlot as well?” I wasn’t really picking a hole in Pertie’s argument so much as questioning why he thought it only applied to Sheila Dikshit.

“In a general sense, yes”, he responded. “But it applies much more specifically to Mrs Dikshit than anyone else. First, because she operated in close proximity to 7 Race Course Road and 10 Janpath. Gehlot didn’t. And, second, because she’s intimately identified with the Gandhi family. She, therefore, became a natural target for the anger directed at them.”

“So are you saying that Sheila Dikshit didn’t deserve to lose?” That’s clearly what Pertie’s arguments appeared to add up to. It seemed his implied conclusion was that Delhi’s voters had expended their wrath on the wrong politician.

“Let me put it like this”, Pertie began with a smile that suggested he had thought of a convincing reply. “Suppose the Delhi elections had happened after the national elections and voters had already dispensed with Manmohan Singh and the Gandhis. Do you think they would have still bundled out Sheila or rewarded her with a fourth term to carry on the good work of the previous three?”

Pertie’s counterfactual is certainly appealing even if not fully convincing. However, his underlying argument, that Sheila Dikshit was defeated because Manmohan Singh and the Gandhis were not on offer, has the ring of truth. I’ve since discovered that several senior Congressmen, including a few top ministers, agree. Unlike Pertie they don’t have the independence — or is it the courage? — to say so publicly. But in confidential whispers they’re speaking out loudly!

“We’ve lost a good woman”, Pertie concluded, the glum look back on his face. “But that’s democracy for you. The people’s choice is not always the right one.”

I’m not sure how much consolation that will be for Mrs Dikshit. But I’m confident of one thing: history will be a lot kinder than this contemporary verdict.

Views expressed by the author are personal