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Don't write off Congress yet, says Sheila Dikshit

January 12, 2015 16:17 IST
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Former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit may not be contesting the assembly polls, but she is very much in the thick of preparations for the Congress.

Dikshit tells Kavita Chowdhury that she is not interested in any post in Delhi politics but does not rule out a role at the national level in the future. Edited excerpts:

Ever since you declared that you will not be contesting the upcoming Delhi assembly elections, people are curious to know what your role will be in these elections. Will it be that of an experienced senior leader advising on all aspects of the election or a star campaigner for the Congress?

I have already made it clear that I am not going to contest but whatever else the party asks me to do, I will do it. The party has been consulting me and several candidates have been seeking my advice. The Congress has declared its first list of 24 candidates and the party's central election committee is yet to declare the rest. As for the campaigning, no programme has been worked out as of now. Yes, several MLAs want me to campaign for them. (The Congress has already announced Dikshit as one of its campaigners.)

Your detractors say that you are not contesting the polls because of your alleged involvement in the Commonwealth Games scam. How do you respond to that?

Let me make it clear that the Comptroller and Auditor General has not passed any strictures on the then Delhi government; the CAG has not passed any strictures on me as well. Every decision that was taken was a collective decision of the sports ministry, urban development ministry, finance ministry, the Lieutenant Governor and myself. The bottom line is that Delhi implemented the Games on time. As for the Delhi government being linked to the scam, that is a perception that was dead long ago. If there was indeed anything, the Bharatiya Janata Party  government would have followed it up.

When you resigned as Kerala governor, there was a lot of speculation about your future political innings.

When I came back from Kerala, Sonia Gandhi graciously made me the chairperson for the Congress celebrations for Jawaharlal Nehru's 125th birth anniversary. I am not taking sanyaas (retirement) or anything, I don't believe in that. When the time comes and there is something for me at the national level... I can't rule out anything in the future. As for Delhi, I have served there for 15 continuous years. I don't want a position in Delhi. I am thinking of writing a history of the Congress' 15-year rule in Delhi and the changes we brought -- the metro, flyovers, a cleaner city and so on.

There are still many within the party who pin the blame for the Congress' humiliating defeat in Delhi on you -- its seat tally fell from 43 to a disastrous eight.

We lost last time for several reasons -- perceptions of corruption and scams at the Centre, the Anna Hazare factor and the Nirbhaya incident. But the underlying factor was that people wanted a change. We had been elected for three terms but this was the first time there was a three-pronged contest. There was a feeling of fatigue among the public -- there was nothing wrong in the Congress' work and development for 15 years.

You recently offered to support an Aam Aadmi Party-led government in Delhi. But you categorically stated "the Congress would not support a communal party, which is the BJP". AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, however, spurned the offer and termed it as an acknowledgement of the Congress' weakness.

But it is

a historical fact. Last time, the Congress gave the AAP government support from outside, the man ran away himself. We had given him support because we realised we could not go to polls again. Should such a scenario repeat itself, the Congress -- because of its ideology -- can't support a non-secular government. Who knows, the Congress may even turn out to be the largest party.

This would be quite an about-turn on AAP, considering that it was only in December 2013 when you said, "Who is AAP?"

It is not an about-turn. At that point of time, AAP was not known at all. It was the media that projected him (Kejriwal) as the future prime minister. But this happens in elections and after all, this was the first time we had a three-party contest in Delhi.

In hindsight, do you feel it was a mistake to underestimate AAP?

Kejriwal was at that time going around in my constituency. I feel I didn't assess his impact on the people as seriously as I should have. (Kejriwal defeated Dikshit in the New Delhi constituency.)

Last time, the BJP bagged 32 seats and then there was the landslide 2014 Lok Sabha victory. This was followed by victories in several assembly elections in the erstwhile Congress-ruled states. So, in 2015, by all accounts, the BJP is likely to better their prospects, while Congressmen are apprehensive that they might not even manage to retain the eight seats they won last time.

Yes, in 2014, the BJP had several successful mandates but the Congress has done well in the Panchayat polls in Chhattisgarh. We have had successes in the by-polls in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, even in the Gujarat municipal elections. I am confident that the party will do better in Delhi -- once all the candidates are declared and the election manifesto and advertisements are out, everyone is working hard, individually and collectively.

The Congress will have to face not just AAP, but a resurgent BJP. Do you apprehend the Narendra Modi wave sweeping the Delhi polls?

Don't write off the Congress just yet. The Modi wave has been on the wane. If you look at the Jharkhand and the Jammu & Kashmir poll results, the BJP didn't get the mandate they expected. Modi even spent Diwali in Kashmir.

The New Delhi constituency seat has always witnessed a high-profile battle. Who do you think are the most suitable contenders for this seat from the Congress?

It is for the party to decide. I will not be contesting and nobody from my family is going to contest the polls either.

At the national level, the Congress is facing a crisis. As a three-term chief minister and an experienced Congress hand, what according to you should be the basic rubric of the party's plan for a revival?

The Congress needs to work collectively and come up with some innovative thinking. When we lost during Indira Gandhi's time, the party reinvented itself. And again after P V Narasimha Rao's era, it reinvented itself. So, it's still early days. The party will be having an All India Congress Committee session. Rahul Gandhi is doing the right thing -- familiarisng himself with the ground reality. We have to come up with some innovative ideas.

The Congress needs to gets its communication right. It needs to tell the people that the development in the past 60 years has been because of the party. And all this talk of redefining our secularism, that is what our enemies want. Our secularism has always been defined by the Indian Constitution. We need to stand up against the BJP's communal agenda, its language of love jihad and ghar wapsi.

Image: Former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit

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