If Congress wins Delhi, Sheila Dikshit may rule again

November 5th, 2008 - 2:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia GandhiNew Delhi, Nov 5 (IANS) The Congress party may not have declared its chief ministerial candidate in Delhi but party sources say Sheila Dikshit is most likely to retain the post if the Congress wins the Nov 29 assembly elections.Although the 71-year-old leader has plenty of critics within the party, including those who have in the past revolted against her leadership, her proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her 10-year tenure are her major strengths, party leaders and analysts say.

Officially, however, and also to offset any possible rebellion within its ranks, the Congress has not named her the chief ministerial candidate even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is projecting veteran Vijay Kumar Malhotra for the top job. Dikshit herself is mum on the issue.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Shakeel Ahmad summed up the Congress dilemma: “We have not projected anyone as the chief ministerial candidate in any of the states going to the polls. But the sitting chief minister will have an edge over others. So is the case with Sheila Dikshit.”

Of the six states going to the polls in a staggered manner from Nov 14, only Delhi has a Congress chief minister.

Said party spokesperson Manish Tiwari: “In the Congress, the newly elected legislators decide the chief minister in consultation with the party high command. Sheila Dikshit has been chief minister for the last 10 years. So, although no one has been projected as future chief minister, many things are obvious.”

But the Congress is finding the going tough in Delhi, a cosmopolitan city of 16 million where soaring prices of food items is tipped to become a key campaign theme — and swing votes against the government.

A parliamentary affairs minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, Dikshit became chief minister of Delhi in 1998 and went on to lead the party to victory in the elections again in 2003 even as the Congress was routed in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

The decade of her governance has been marked by highs and lows — widespread development activity in a city preparing for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 as well as increasing terrorist attacks.

Political pundits warn that it will be difficult for the Congress to return to power in view of inflation and anti-incumbency.

“However, if the Congress comes back to power, Dikshit will be the strongest chief ministerial candidate,” said Pralay Kanungo, professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) here.

According to Kanungo, age will not work against Dikshit, a grandmother who is still said to put in 14 punishing hours of work every day.

“As long as she is healthy, age will not be a hurdle for her. In India many older politicians have been chief ministers. Even V.K. Malhotra is older to her,” said Kanungo.

Kamal Mitra Chenoy of JNU found fault with the Congress for not projecting her as the next chief minister, pointing out that there were no other claimants to the post in the party’s Delhi unit.

He too felt that if the Congress came back to power, Dikshit would be the best bet for the party to hold the reins of power.

Not everyone in the Congress thinks so.

In 2003, after she led the Congress to a spectacular victory in the assembly elections, a group of legislators refused to accept her as chief minister. Sonia Gandhi’s intervention swung the mood in her favour.

The dissidents are still there. But Congress and business leaders admit that Dikshit’s popular appeal and charisma can still do wonders — even if the BJP is determined to win.

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