The longest-serving chief minister of Delhi and veteran Congress party leader, Sheila Dikshit, 80, was recently appointed president of the Delhi Congress at a politically-crucial time with the Lok Sabha elections barely three months away. She replaced her former understudy, Ajay Maken, who resigned as Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) chief apparently on health grounds. Dikshit has had a distinguished political career. She was Delhi CM for three consecutive terms from 1998 to 2013. After her stunning defeat in the 2013 Delhi Assembly polls in the wake of the spectacular rise of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Congress was wiped out in the national capital. The previous Congress-led UPA government had appointed her as Governor of Kerala. She resigned her gubernatorial post in August 2014 after the Narendra Modi government assumed office. The Congress declared her its CM candidate for the February-March 2017 UP Assembly elections, although her candidature was withdrawn after the party stitched up an alliance with the then ruling Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, which came a cropper. The Congress leadership has now evidently brought Dikshit back at the helm of the party’s Delhi unit with an eye on the general elections, even as her formidable task is cut out. Apart from leading the Congress in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, she is supposed to revive and rejuvenate the party which has been relegated to the margins of Delhi politics after the AAP’s ascent to power. In an interview, Dikshit spoke on a range of issues concerning her party and the national capital. Excerpts:
Were you surprised when Rahul Gandhi appointed you Delhi Congress president on 10 January? Why have you been brought back to lead the Congress in the national capital?
Look, I tell you one thing. Mr Ajay Maken has resigned. So, whatever he (Rahul Gandhi) thought about… Rahul and Soniaji appointed me. That’s all I can say. I can’t question it. I can’t answer why.
Along with your appointment, Rahul Gandhi also appointed three working presidents ~ an unprecedented move in a citystate like Delhi ~ for the DPCC. What does it signify?
Well, I am glad. There are more people like us to work. You see, Delhi may look like a small state. But it has got a very huge population and it’s the capital city of the country. So, I think it’s a wise step to take.
What are going to be your top priorities as DPCC chief?
I will give you my priorities later after I have settled into my new job. But the priorities are that we have to face (general) elections immediately. We have to also bring to the notice of the people what has been happening since the Congress regime lost power in Delhi. Delhi has not been the same since then.
What will be your party’s plank in the coming Lok Sabha polls in Delhi?
Well, to win back Lok Sabha polls in Delhi, whatever steps are required to be taken, we should take that.
The Congress was reduced to a zero in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2015 Assembly elections in Delhi. How can your party be revived and rejuvenated here?
Well, you know, my government came for the first time in 1998
and at that time also everybody thought the Congress would never come back. It came back.
It is said that you are in favour of an alliance with the ruling AAP for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls to ensure the BJP’s defeat in Delhi. And that your predecessor Ajay Maken quit because he was not in favour of such an alliance. Your comments?
I am not in favour (of an alliance with the AAP).
Delhi is known to be the most unsafe city for girls and women in the country. As a three-time ex-Delhi CM, what in your view must be done to fix it?
You see, law and order and those who are connected with the law and order like the police are all under the Central government. So, they have to respond to it. We, of course, have a voice in it, and always can talk to them. As I have said, they are aware of it all. So, they have to take the action. And I would suggest that they take action as quickly as they possibly can. Like every time we faced something like this, we used to go to the police and to the LG under whom the police comes, to request them please do something about it.
Air pollution has emerged as a major crisis for public health in Delhi. What urgent measures would you propose to tackle it?
Well, we, you know, took many steps to curb air pollution. But there wasn’t the kind of pollution before that you see this year in Delhi. You have to be very careful about it and it is a very big danger to people’s health.