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Break the inertia & act now

Delhi is a critical territory for the Congress, and its performance in the city is directly linked to its performance in the country as a whole, writes Pankaj Vohra.
None | By BETWEEN US | Pankaj Vohra
PUBLISHED ON JUL 31, 2006 12:06 AM IST

The Congress’s loss of a delhi municipal seat to the bjp in an avoidable bye-election should serve as an eye-opener to the Congress leadership that the people’s disillusionment with the party is real. Though senior leaders may want to dismiss the poll outcome as insignificant, given that it was just a municipal bye-election, they must realise that the power tussle in the Delhi Congress can lead to greater losses in bigger elections.

There can be no denying that people in the capital are fed up with the dismal water and power situation and a mere apology by the Chief Minister before she embarked on a foreign visit some weeks ago has not sufficed. They are in an unforgiving mood and the result of the recent poll is the first major electoral indicator. The BJP has no base left in the city but if its candidate won hands down, it was because of strong resentment against the Congress, more so due to its failure to live up to expectations.

The BJP won by over 5,000 votes but more significantly, the Congress lost virtually in every polling station. It was the party’s most crushing defeat in recent years. The margin may have been greater and the Congress candidate may have forfeited her deposit had the notification by the Urban Development Ministry concerning land use and master plan changes not been made.

What was most shameful was that even though the Congress is in power in the capital, no major leader or minister visited the constituency. Only DPCC chief Ram Babu Sharma and defeated Lok Sabha candidate RK Anand seemed active there. In sharp contrast, the BJP put its best foot forward and the entire party leadership descended on the area, making it a prestigious fight. Obviously, the Congress deserved to lose for its poor grassroots track record, far removed from the so-called achievements of the government.

What needs to be understood is that this election was totally uncalled for. There is speculation that the poll was conducted due to the acute power tussle in Delhi which has put Congress CM Sheila Dikshit and the party chief in adversarial roles. The fight between them was more visible in the constituency than the fight between the united party on one side and the BJP on the other. There have been allegations that while the poll campaign was on, there was no let up in power cuts and erratic water supply, which aggravated the residents even more against the party that they had voted for so overwhelmingly in the last three elections (municipal, assembly and parliamentary).

Normally, polls are not held in the summer when the civic amenities are poor, as it goes against the ruling combination. The bye-election was totally unnecessary since the municipal polls are due early next year. The argument that it had to be held as per the Election Commission's requirement is fallacious since in the past municipal bye-polls have not been held for years. For example, the seats vacated by Mahabal Mishra and Narendra Nath were not filled for some time. The vacancy created by the murder of corporator Atma Ram Gupta also took long to fill.

The intense power struggle in the Delhi unit of the party has been on for some time and the high command is conscious of this. It has allowed matters to go from bad to worse and a situation has arisen where the party’s hold over the city is slipping. The only consolation is that after Madan Lal Khurana broke away from the BJP and the saffron party was caught in its own problems, the slide of the Congress has gone unnoticed by the media and a faulty perception exists. Successive AICC general secretaries who have been given the Delhi charge have allowed the status quo to exist, fearing that changes could boomerang since the deceptive perception is very strong.

What these senior leaders do not realise is that this is doing more harm than good. If the Congress has to look ahead, it has to bring in a new agenda, new faces and new ideas. Most present leaders have outlived their utility and could prove a liability in future. A roadmap needs to be drawn so that the squabbles end or are at least minimised. If the solution lies in changing the CM or the DPCC chief or both, it should be done without more delay.

Such is the state of affairs that the full body of the DPCC is yet to be constituted. So far as the government goes, the constant complaint is that ministers are inaccessible and there are sharp differences within the cabinet. The CM wants to reshuffle her pack to regularly remind disgruntled MLAs that their turn can come too. The real motive, of course, is to signal that she is here to stay.

Similarly, the opposing camp wants the high command to decide Dikshit’s successor soon since she has already had a seven-and-a-half-year tenure and anti-incumbency tendencies have begun to show. Their efforts to convince senior leaders that the TINA (there is no alternative) factor is a myth have not yielded result. This camp has also been trying to convey that if Sharma is replaced first, it will send a message that Dikshit has had her way.

Delhi is a critical territory for the Congress, and its performance in the city is directly linked to its performance in the country as a whole. So the Congress must take a fresh and early look at the city as well as its present government and organisation to avoid a repeat of the municipal bye-poll outcome. The solution lies in action. At least this is how the people have been forced to think. Between us.

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