Former Union minister and ex- AICC general secretary, Ajay Maken, is among the Congress’ leading young politicians. A party heavyweight from Delhi, Maken, 56, has handled a slew of key portfolios in the state and central governments as well as the Congress organisation.

Graduating from student politics, Maken went on to become Speaker of the Delhi Assembly and a cabinet minister in the Sheila Dikshit government. A three-term MLA and two-term MP, he was also entrusted with many portfolios in the Manmohan Singh ministry.

After a stint with the AICC, the Congress leadership shifted Maken back to Delhi politics as president of the state unit, a post he quit in January 2019.

In an interview with SHARBANI BANERJEE, Maken candidly spoke about the recently concluded Delhi Assembly polls and the state of the Congress.

Excerpts:

Q: What is your assessment of the recently concluded Delhi Assembly election?

A: This election, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in a way got a free run. The BJP doesn’t have the capability of talking on developmental issues or taking on Kejriwal as an effective opposition on development issues. The BJP failed to do so even when Congress was in power. So, the BJP doesn’t have the capacity to talk on issues or pick up the right issues that concern people of Delhi. However, the Congress which has the capacity to take up issues should have been much more aggressive against the Kejriwal government.

Q: The Congress has drawn a blank in the two Assembly and the two Lok Sabha polls in Delhi since 2014. Is it the end of the story for the Congress in Delhi too, like in some other states?

A: After 2015, we had improved steadily. If you look at the vote share, in the first two elections after 2013, the percentage of vote share came down. But from 2015, our percentage of votes increased as we were aggressive against the Kejriwal government. We took up several issues against AAP such as the white paper on mohalla clinics, Kejriwal’s MLAs’ parliamentary secretary issue, and many others. The moment we stopped this, the vote percentage immediately came down.

Q: There’s a view in some circles that the Congress did not go all out to contest the Delhi polls in order to avoid the split in the anti-BJP votes as it did not want to benefit the BJP. Is this true?

A: I totally disagree with it. In fact, for the first time, four chief ministers of different states came and campaigned in Delhi. In addition, Rahul Gandhi ji, Priyanka ji addressed four public meetings. I think a lot of effort was made. But as I said, maybe we were not as aggressive as we should have been on issues against Kejriwal.

Q: The Congress’s vote share in these Delhi polls plunged to 4.26 per cent ~ its lowest ever.How did the party,which ruled for 15 years continuously till 2013, collapse so comprehensively in just a few years?

A: Now it’s a triangular contest. Earlier the elections were bipolar. If people were not happy with one party, they voted for another one. But now, it’s no longer just two parties. We must fight for each and every vote. That’s why we should have fought for anti- BJP votes and been more aggressive against Kejriwal.

Q: What’s your prescription for your party’s revival and rejuvenation in Delhi?

A: Now we should have a younger set of leaders and encourage more young people to lead the party.

Q: A war of words broke out recently on Twitter between several Congress leaders over the Delhi election results, which involved you, Milind Deora, P C Chacko, P Chidambaram and Sharmistha Mukherjee among others. What’s your take on this entire affair?

A: I will ask people out of Delhi to desist from saying something on Delhi politics. Also, I would tell all my colleagues that left-of-the-centre space is occupied by Congress and there is no other pan-India party that can challenge this. We should go back to the roots and this left-of-the-centre space which was always with Congress ~ and people will come to us and voters will come to us.

Q: Chidambaram and Tharoor have called the Delhi election outcome as the defeat of the BJP’s “divisive policy” and of its “bluff and bluster”. Don’t you see the Delhi poll results in that light?

A: I see it as the failure of both BJP and Congress to counter AAP’s false claims. There is a lot of resentment against BJP too on account of unemployment, economic slowdown, etc. We should not be just happy with BJP’s defeat as it is our defeat also. We should not be happy and satisfied only with BJP being defeated. These are the Congress’s votes which have shifted to AAP. People may have thought that AAP is in a better position than BJP. But it shouldn’t be a matter of satisfaction or joy to us.

Q: You wanted the Congress to forge an alliance with the AAP in Delhi in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which eventually did not fructify. Do you think your party should have tried to join hands with the AAP in the recent Assembly polls?

A: I was always opposed to alliance in Delhi Assembly and municipal elections. I was, however, in favour of alliance in Lok Sabha elections because it occurred post-Pulwama. I then thought elections were being polarised and we should not let the votes get divided. And as people now feel, had there been an alliance during Lok Sabha elections, BJP would not have won all seven seats in Delhi.

Q: At the national level too, the Congress remains in dire straits. It also continues to reel under a leadership crisis. What, in your view, should be on top of the party’s agenda now?

A: We all should remember these are transitional moments for a party. We occupy the left-of-centre space and no other party can do that. There was a time we were more aggressive than BJP against Kejriwal government. The top agenda for Delhi is that we should be more aggressive than BJP against Kejriwal.