Delhi Cabinet: How Sheila Dikshit managed to maintain status quo
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Delhi Cabinet: How Sheila Dikshit managed to maintain status quo

Dikshit?s strategy from the beginning had been one of maintaining status quo. She perhaps knew that if she announced that she was planning an entirely new cabinet, she would be hounded by all factions seeking inclusion in the cabinet

india Updated: Dec 15, 2003 00:30 IST
FREEHAND | Soni Sangwan
FREEHAND | Soni Sangwan

The new Delhi cabinet that takes oath on Monday is a remarkable political patchwork quilt that Sheila Dikshit has stiched together. What is remarkable in this is not who has been included, but rather, who has been kept out. Despite immense pressure from all quarters, Dikshit has succeeded in keeping anyone who may have proved to be troublemaker out of her cabinet.

Dikshit's strategy from the beginning had been one of maintaining status quo. She perhaps knew that if she announced that she was planning an entirely new cabinet, she would be hounded by all factions seeking inclusion in the cabinet. By maintaining that she had won the elections with the help of the team she had, she ensured that the push-pull was there only for two berths — Mahender Singh Saathi's, who lost, and Deep Chand Bandhu's, who died.

The other posts of any consequence that were also up for grabs were those of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chief Whip and Parliamentary Secretary. So, in effect, she had to find suitable candidates for six posts.

The game here was one of exclusion, not inclusion. And this is where Dikshit has really succeeded. If one looks carefully at the composition of the cabinet, it becomes clear that only two names are those that she can really claim to be of her choice. These are second-time MLA Arvinder Singh Lovely and former Chief Whip Mangat Ram Singhal.

While Lovely is there because Dikshit wanted him, his inclusion in the ministry has actually been gifted to him by Mahender Singh Saathi. The day that Saathi lost, it was clear that Lovely would replace him on the Sikh card. Singhal owes his ministry to the fact that he is a loyal and trusted member of the Dikshit kitchen cabinet.

The other four are there because she wanted to ensure the exclusion of troublemakers. Dr A K Walia was tipped for the Speaker’s job but was able to keep a hold on his ministerial berth mainly because of his seniority and good connections within the party. Completely non-controversial, he has no real enemies and was acceptable to all. His geniality and connections ensured his position while Ajay Maken has been forced to be content with the largely ceremonial post of Speaker.

Raj Kumar Chauhan has retained his ministerial position because of a combination of factors. One, his caste. Two, the manner in which he has been able to enter the inner coterie of Dikshit. Three, he has also been able to keep the channels open between himself and other senior party leaders.

At the time of the last reshuffle, Dikshit had been forced to take on Haroun Yousuf because of his connections with Arjun Singh. That is still the reason why he is in the cabinet.

Two of the ministers Dikshit had dropped last time are now back — one as a minister and the second as deputy speaker. Yoganand Shastri is back on the jat plank and Krishna Tirath because of her dalit credentials. This basically means that the other dalit leaders in the running were completely unacceptable.

But before the final cabinet could be decided, the fluidity of the situation was evident from the fact that Dikshit had to take four appointments with the Lt.-Governor and then cancel out on them. First the delay in the decision over who would be the chief minister and then the delay in the oath-taking seemed to indicate that all was not well within the party. For the only party chief minister to reclaim hold over the state to be treated in this manner did not go down well with the people either.

The story behind the delay at the time of selecting the Congress Legislative Party leader was the struggle to keep Chaudhary Prem Singh out. Though Dikshit succeeded there, she had to suffer the ignominy of having to go through a second election when the party MLAs were asked to voice their opinion about the new leader. Like all the MLAs said while waiting to speak to senior leaders, "We are a democratic party, so we are leaving the final decision to the party high command".

The second delay that Dikshit survived was over the formation of the cabinet and here too, the cause of delay was the battle to keep troublemakers out. While Prem Singh was out soon after the debacle at the CLP meeting, the other noise maker, Subhash Chopra, fell to a self goal. When he was shown arriving at Ahmed Patel's slightly the worse off from drinking, his goose was well and truely cooked. Any question of his inclusion in the cabinet was thrown out by that incident.

While Dikshit has managed to keep a fine balance by including all major communities in her cabinet or by giving them adequate representation at other posts, it is the MLAs from Outer Delhi parliamentary constituency who have not found adequate representation. East Delhi, which sends in 20 MLAs, has three ministers and the parliamentary secretary is also from there. South Delhi and Karol Bagh are represented by two MLAs each — Ajay Maken, Yoganand Shastri and Ramakant Goswami and Krishna Tirath. The chief minister herself is from New Delhi and Haroun Yousuf represents Chandni Chowk. Outer Delhi — the biggest parliamentary constituency which sends in 21 MLAs to the assembly has 14 Congress MLAs this time. But only one — Raj Kumar Chauhan — has been made a minister.

The task ahead of Dikshit is one of trying to ensure that the balance continues and that she is able to take everyone with her.

First Published: Dec 15, 2003 00:30 IST