'Today, in response to the rape of a foreigner in the city, AAP leaders are saying the Delhi police is not under them -- when I had said the same, nobody wanted to hear it. They themselves are facing the same situation. I would say, it is a learning process for the AAP,' says former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who was vanquished by the AAP's Arvind Kejriwal in the recent assembly elections.
On the sidelines of the All India Congress Committee session for the 2014 polls at New Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium last week, Sheila Dikshit, the Congress's former chief minister of Delhi, spoke to Kavita Chowdhury about her views on the Aam Aadmi Party government in the capital, her "misjudgement" of the fledgeling party, and on the Congress's decision to go into the general elections without naming Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate. An excerpt.
The Aam Aadmi Party routed your and the Congress's 15-year rule in Delhi, and has now formed the government. How do you see the current situation in Delhi?
At the moment, it looks like chaos. It's not even been a month but the start to this AAP government has not been comfortable. What we are seeing in Delhi now is the loss of administrative capacity. But it's a democracy, so the people have expressed their choice.
The Congress is supporting the AAP-led government. Do you see this fledgeling government lasting its full term?
The Congress has said very categorically that we will support this government as long as it works on fulfilling its promises. But whether it be the Somnath Bharti or the Rakhi Birla issue, the Congress has very aptly been holding demonstrations everyday. We will take them on regarding every point. This government can last on our support. They (AAP) are the ones who have made promises such as regularising contractual jobs. We, in the Congress, don't do such things; we make realistic promises.
Today, in response to the rape of a foreigner in the city, AAP leaders are saying the Delhi police is not under them -- when I had said the same, nobody wanted to hear it. They themselves are facing the same situation. I would say, it is a learning process for AAP.
In hindsight now, do you think it was a mistake to underestimate AAP?
Nobody anticipated that the AAP would come up with 28 seats. They made popular promises -- a 50 per cent reduction in power tariffs, 700 litres of free water, regularising contractual jobs; today they're unable to fulfill them. What they've done, for instance, is to provide 660 litres to every metered connection. It's all very confusing. Initially, we didn't think much of these unrealistic promises. Yes, we weren't able to evaluate that their poll promises might work (in bringing in the votes). It was a misjudgement.
In the sssembly elections, you had dismissed Arvind Kejriwal as no threat to the Congress. How do you rate Kejriwal as chief minister?
It's not even been a month. He will complete a month as chief minister on January 28. Everyone should be given a month or two in office before any assessment.
Looking at the assembly poll results, the AAP seemed to reach out to a similar votebank as the Congress. Do you think the Congress is in danger of having its votebank eroded?
There's no danger of the Congress votebank being eroded. It was an unusual situation (in the Delhi assembly polls) with the AAP's promises that could not be fulfilled.
But what about 2014? There are fears that the seven Lok Sabha seats that the Congress currently has in New Delhi, it might not be able to hold onto even those.
The polls in 2014 will be national elections, and we will strategise accordingly. I will not reveal anything right now. We have a wonderful leader of the 21st century in Rahul Gandhi, a fresh face who will lead the poll campaign. He is a new, youthful leader who carries no baggage.
Do you think that the Congress has taken an undue risk by going into the 2014 Lok Sabha polls without naming Rahul Gandhi as the party's prime ministerial candidate? Hasn't it demoralised your party cadre as well, ahead of such a crucial electoral battle?
Not naming a prime ministerial candidate is part of the Congress's tradition. The Congress Working Committee has already declared that Rahul Gandhi will be incharge of the poll campaign. We've never named our candidate before, and it is clearly implied that that he is our only candidate. In my view, it's not a risk. Of course, there is a popular demand for it within the party but first let us win the (Lok Sabha) polls.
The Congress is being accused of shying away from a Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi contest.
The Bharatiya Janata Party named Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate more than five months back, much before the assembly polls. Sonia Gandhi has emphasised that we are a party that is over a 100 years old, and we have a tradition. When we win elections, we elect our prime minister.
The BJP is alleging that the Congress is scared the United Progressive Alliance's litany of corruption and scams will rub off on Rahul Gandhi, and hence the Congress wants to shield him.
We are not scared. Is there no scam in the BJP-ruled state governments? What about the snoopgate case in Gujarat? Politics has been reduced to a level of casting aspersions. The BJP is the party that started the trend of naming prime ministerial candidates. Does any other party, regional or otherwise, do so? This doesn't mean we have to follow the Opposition party.
The Congress might not have named any prime ministerial candidate but in the 2014 electoral battle Kejriwal is already being pitted against BJP's Narendra Modi. The Congress in that respect draws a blank.
It's the media which is pitching it like this. It's the voters who will decide, let us leave it to the wisdom of the voters.
In your view, is the Congress overplaying the youth card and short-changing the experience of senior leaders, especially when it is the oldest political party around?
I don't think so. The 21st century belongs to the youth. There's always a mixture within the party, a coalition of senior and junior leaders. The aspirations of the young population are now identified with Rahul Gandhi. He may not be projecting himself, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in at the All India Congress Committee meeting, but he is undoubtedly the future of the party.
After the debacle in the assembly polls, what is the strategy that the Congress is banking upon to score electoral dividends in the Parliamentary elections?
As the Congress president, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi said, we must advertise our work. We are going in to the 2014 polls on the basis of the work that the UPA has done in the last 10 years. The changing face of India under the Congress, the strides we have taken through all our rights based legislations -- the Right to Education, MNREGA, Right to Information, Right to Food and so on. The people must be made aware of the Congress' work.
What about your political future? Will you be contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha polls?
I am definitely not fighting the Lok Sabha polls. I am "busy" relaxing. I am a part of the Congress but I cannot predict what my political role will be in the future.