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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

Ex-CM Sheila Dikshit is Delhi Congress chief, gets 3 working presidents

Sheila Dikshit, 80, was a frontrunner in a pack of probables, including AICC secretary and a two-time legislator from Badli, Devendra Yadav, former Delhi assembly Speaker and a prominent Jat leader Yoganand Shastri and former Northeast Delhi MP Jai Prakash Agarwal.

india Updated: Jan 10, 2019 22:38 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Former Delhi chief minister Sheila?Dikshit soon after she was named as the Delhi Congress chief.
Former Delhi chief minister Sheila?Dikshit soon after she was named as the Delhi Congress chief.(Arvind Yadav/HT Photo)
         

Three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit on Thursday became the state Congress chief, making a political comeback at the age of 80 to try and revive the party’s fortunes in the battle for the Capital’s seven Lok Sabha seats in the upcoming general elections.

Haroon Yusuf, a former minister in the Dikshit government, Devender Yadav and Rajesh Lilothia, both two-time state legislators and presently All India Congress Committee (AICC) secretaries, were appointed working presidents of the Delhi unit to aid her in the effort. PC Chacko, AICC in-charge of Delhi, made the announcements.

Dikshit replaces Ajay Maken, who cited health reasons and resigned on January 4 from the post of state Congress president he held for four years. In her first remark after her appointment, Dikshit said that her first priority will be to keep the Delhi unit of the party together and chalk out a plan for the Lok Sabha elections.

“I’m honoured that the party has given me the opportunity. My first priority will be to talk to all factions and keep the flock together. I’ll meet the party workers at the booth level to chalk out a plan for the Lok Sabha elections,” Dikshit, who held the same post for a brief duration in 1998, told HT.

Dikshit was the longest-reigning chief minister of Delhi, serving for 15 years from 1998 to 2013, when the advent of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ended Congress’s rule.

The Congress then propped up an AAP government that lasted 49 days before chief minister Arvind Kejriwal resigned following his failure to introduce a bill for appointing an anti-corruption ombudsman, Jan Lokpal.

The Congress failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat from the Capital in the 2014 general elections, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grabbing all seven, and could not win a single seat in the 2015 assembly elections, which the AAP won by a landslide .

When asked about the possibility of an alliance with AAP in Delhi in the coming Lok Sabha elections, Dikshit said: “It is for the party high-command to decide.”

Chacko downplayed the talk of an alliance and said the Congress was strong enough to fight the elections on its own. “This is only about the appointments of the Delhi Congress president and working presidents…There is no question of discussion till now about alliance of Congress party with any other party [in Delhi]. The Congress in

Delhi is strong enough to fight on its own. We are fully prepared and fully ready to face 2019 elections on our own.”

Maken congratulated Dikshit and said under her leadership the Congress party would play the role of a powerful Opposition against the Centre and the state government.

“Congratulations and well wishes to Sheila Dikshit on being appointed as president of Delhi Congress. I had the opportunity to work and learn under her as a parliamentary secretary and as a cabinet minister. I believe under her leadership we will play the role of a powerful opposition against Modi+Kejriwal governments,” Maken tweeted.

But Congress leaders said the party has its work cut out before the elections. The three working presidents will play a key role in galvanising the support of key sections of the electorate, especially Muslims, Dalits and young voters. Yusuf, 60, a four-time MLA from Ballimaran, had been a minister in the Dikshit government since 1998 and handled key portfolios such as power, transport, food and civil supplies, industries and revenue. He is the party’s prominent Muslim face in Delhi.

Yadav, 46, and Lilothia, 49, are both two-time MLAs, from Badli and Patel Nagar, respectively, and are relatively young. They will both play a key role in garnering the support of young voters, who sided with the AAP in 2015, a party leader said on condition of anonymity. Lilothia is a scheduled caste member. Muslims and scheduled castes had been a key vote bank of the Congress until it lost power.

Since its 2015 debacle, the party has been trying to win back its support base. Congress leaders say that the party’s vote share increased from 9% in the 2015 assembly elections to 26% in the municipal elections in 2017.

First Published: Jan 10, 2019 17:13 IST