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|November 28, 1998||
Vindicated and victorious, Shiela Dikshit plans to clean up Delhi
Suhasini Haider in Delhi
The Congress victory in Delhi may have been a foregone conclusion for some weeks, but the party's chief ministerial candidate, Sheila Dikshit's own election from Delhi's Gole market constituency awaited verdict until today. This morning, however, all uncertainty ended for her. She won with a thumping majority of 5,657 votes, beating BJP incumbent, former cricketer Kirti Azad.
Speaking as she emerged victorious from the counting booth in Gole market, she looked relieved and visibly younger than she has through the campaign. "The fact that I have won in this BJP stronghold should be enough to silence my critics," she said in reply to a question about the criticism that she is an outsider, out of touch with grassroots politics.
Dikshit was extremely guarded about any questions regarding the prospect of becoming chief minister of Delhi. She insisted that that was a decision for Sonia Gandhi and the Congress assembly party (in that order, of course) to take. However, she did say that the first task before the new government would be to "clean up the city".
Her victory procession then wound through the broad roads of New Delhi, leading to her modest apartment in Nizamuddin, a residential colony overlooking Humayun's tomb. The area has been taken over by Congress workers over the last couple of days, and it was a real squeeze in Dikshit's flat this morning. Clad in her signature printed silk sari, the winning candidate mingled with all the party workers who had come to congratulate her. She then sat down to watch television as the results from Delhi and other states started coming in.
A phone call comes in to say that her rival for Delhi, Sushma Swaraj, is trailing in her Hauz Khas seat, and there are whoops of joy. A fresh round of mithai is passed around at this bit of news. The news was inaccurate, as Swaraj won her seat by a narrow margin.
Soon after returning home Dikshit set off to see Sonia Gandhi, to be congratulated for her win and to discuss the possibility of forming the Delhi government. Now that the Congress seems set to win the election, Sonia Gandhi will be vindicated for her decision to appoint Dikshit, who had all but retired from politics, as president of the Delhi Congress party, just before the assembly election.
Her appointment had generated much discontent in the ranks of the party, and many Congress leaders, including S S Ahluwalia, attacked the leadership over distribution of seats and her nominations to various committees. Also upset were leaders like H K L Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, who were sidelined, ostensibly for their alleged role in the 1984 Sikh riots.
Dikshit herself faced rebellion from Romesh Sabharwal who stood against her in Gole Market, and withdrew his candidature only at Sonia Gandhi's behest. All that has been forgotten today, with the Congress's victory.
"The Congress has been united under Sonia Gandhi's leadership," says a delighted Dikshit, "And this united approach has rejuvenated the party." Her optimism may be short-lived. She still has walk the tricky tightrope of Congress politics in Delhi, and will have to keep all factions of the party happy. She also has ahead of her the Herculean task of fixing the state's economy, particularly with respect to the price of vegetables and essential commodities.
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