Veteran Congress leader Sheila Dikshit has not only been the longest-serving Chief Minister of Delhi, but also the longest-serving woman CM in the country. She was Delhi CM for three consecutive terms from 1998 to 2013. Dikshit, 81, is currently president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC).
She has been leading the Congress from the front in the national capital in this Lok Sabha election and is also her party’s candidate from the North-East Delhi parliamentary constituency, where she is locked in a fierce triangular fight with Delhi BJP chief and incumbent MP Manoj Tiwari and Aam Aadmi Party’s Dilip Pandey.
Dikshit has had a remarkable political career. In the December 2013 Assembly elections, however, she suffered a stunning defeat in her New Delhi bastion at the hands of the then rising political star and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, who subsequently replaced her as CM.
With the AAP’s ascent to power, the Congress was decimated and relegated to the margins of Delhi politics. However, the party seems to be showing some signs of revival now, even as Dikshit has her task cut out.
Although a large section of the Delhi Congress and even the All India Congress Committee (AICC) advocated an alliance between the Congress and the AAP against the formidable BJP, Dikshit strongly opposed it. This alliance eventually failed to fructify, with Delhi now all set to witness a triangular battle in all its seven Lok Sabha constituencies.
In an interview to CHANCHAL SINGH, Dikshit spoke on a range of issues concerning the elections, her party, and the national capital. Excerpts:
Q: How many seats could your party be realistically expected to win in the Lok Sabha polls in Delhi and why?
A: When you contest, you work with confidence. And we are also contesting with full confidence. May or may not, that is a separate matter ~ the aim is to win the elections.
Q: Don’t you think the anti-BJP votes in the national capital will get split between the Congress and the AAP, giving clear advantage to the BJP in every seat?
A: No, it’s a three-cornered contest in Delhi between AAP, BJP and Congress. It’s not a straight one-to-one battle. It’s a three-cornered fight, so it’s different from other places. Let’s hope that Congress wins.
Q: How will a large section of Delhi’s anti-BJP voters react to the acrimony between the Congress and the AAP?
A: There is no acrimony. Efforts were made to create it, but it didn’t work. There is nothing. We are fighting against AAP as much as we are fighting against the BJP.
Q: But, don’t you think a Congress-AAP alliance could have helped you take on the BJP in a more effective and decisive manner in every single constituency in Delhi?
A: Why do you think that? We are a very old party and have a history of many years. So why should we go into an alliance which we don’t need to.
Q: What are, in your view, the major issues in this election? And what is your party’s poll plank here?
A: See, Delhi is the capital of this country. Therefore, it needs a lot more attention than perhaps other capitals of other states. It requires friendliness, a peaceful atmosphere, efficiency, good roads, good atmosphere, not the kind of pollution that we have sometimes. And it requires good transport, good education and because there are a lot of migrants from many parts of the country to settle here, it requires much more than an ordinary city would. Therefore, you have to work towards that. And then it comes to multiplicity of authorities here. There is central government and local government ~ between themselves they rule the city.
Q: Your party had ruled Delhi for fifteen years and for many more years at the Centre, and yet the people here have still been grappling with the problems of water, power, car parking, pollution, unauthorised colonies. So, how could you blame the BJP and the AAP for “insufficient governance”?
A: That (the above problems) is of course here….It’s only the Congress party which in fifteen years of rule settled all these and they almost became history. But ever since the Congress has left and the BJP at the Centre and the AAP at the local level took over, I don’t think they have done anything to relieve the Delhi people of the problems which you mentioned.
Q: Why did months of tie-up talks between the AAP and the Congress not result in an alliance?
A: Well, it’s a political choice of the Congress. And you can’t question it. As I said, we are the oldest party, a huge party and we are capable of doing things on our own.
Q: Does your party support the demand that Delhi should be granted full statehood?
A: We support it, but it’s a process. The Constitution of India where the chapter on Delhi is concerned has to be changed. And it can only be changed by Parliament.
Q: What are your core issues for taking on the BJP and the ruling AAP in the Delhi Assembly election next year?
A: The core issues are poor and misguided governance. The (AAP) government has not headed Delhi correctly. So that is the thing we feel very upset about. And despite the fact that there had hardly been anybody to oppose them in government.
Q: What is your take on the issue of women’s security in Delhi? I recall that after losing the 2013 Assembly election, you had said in an interview that somehow the Nirbhaya case had affected your government?
A: There is a democratic set-up, sometimes we lose and sometimes we win, these are normal things. You keep on working. So, if you lose something you try and win back and you have to try to maintain it. But yes, the police was responsible for that (the Nirbhaya case outrage) and the police don’t come under the Delhi government. But we tried our best. The incident that took place was not acceptable, and action was taken.