Sharmistha Mukherjee is a multifaceted politician known to speak her mind freely. She is president of Delhi Mahila Congress as well as chief spokesperson of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee. She has politics in her veins. The daughter of former President Pranab Mukherjee, Sharmistha had been a professional Kathak dancer and choreographer before she began her political journey in July 2014 by joining the Congress party. Since then she has been a leading young face of the Congress in Delhi. In a freewheeling interview to SYED HASHIM NAJMI, Sharmistha spoke on a range of issues.
Q: In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections, the Congress could not win even a single seat in the national capital. What is the current state of your party in the city?
A: You are correct. Then, our vote share had come down to 9 per cent. After 2015 we have had two Assembly byelections, one from Rajouri Garden and the other from Bawana. In 2016, we had corporation byelections and in 2017 there were corporation elections. So, we had four elections since 2015. If you see our vote share it is continuously rising ~ from 9 per cent to 26 per cent. We are regaining our space. Unfortunately, it did not convert into seats. It takes time.
Q: What are the Delhi Congress’s plans for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls? What will be your major campaign issues?
A: Our campaign issues will include the utter failure in fulfilling promises by both the Modi government at the Centre and the Kejriwal government in Delhi. Both governments have turned out to be “jumla” governments. We have prepared two leaflets, one showing the failures of the Modi government and the other those of the AAP government. These leaflets contain their promises, faults and failures.
Delhi Congress workers are going from door to door distributing these pamphlets. We recently organised a Delhi Mahila Congress protest. Our workers interacted with communities to know how issues like the rise in petrol and diesel prices are affecting their lives. We have compiled their reactions. We will send these to the Modi government and the Kejriwal government.
Q: Could your party consider having an alliance or seat-sharing arrangement with the Aam Aadmi Party for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?
A: There is no question of seat sharing. I would like to point out that Ajay Maken, the DPCC president, has categorically stated on various occasions that we will not have any alliance with AAP. Sheila Dikshit and other Congress leaders have also stated that there is no question of having such an alliance.
Q: Delhi is perhaps India’s most unsafe city for women. What is the Congress party’s action plan to deal with this issue?
A: Nirbhaya was one such incident which brought an issue like rape into the forefront of public consciousness. During the then Congress-led UPA government, we set up the Verma Committee. As per this Committee’s report, we amended the laws concerned.
Molestation and rape are major law and order problems, but these are also societal problems. Gender sensitisation is really required, but such a programme needs the community’s involvement. There was a flagship programme under the Sheila Dikshit government called the Gender Resource Centre (GRC). It involved community training, how to prevent crime against women. The AAP government scrapped this whole GRC programme.
Q. Air pollution is a major problem in the national capital which is going to get worse in the coming winter months. Does the Congress have any comprehensive blueprint to curb Delhi’s pollution?
A: If you remember it was during the Sheila Dikshit government when Delhi first got public transport buses using CNG. It had a major impact. Lack of an adequate public transport facility has created a major problem. Pollution caused by vehicular traffic is a major issue. There should be an adequate public transport facility so that people do not use private transport. There has been such a major hike in Metro fares. Most people are not using Metro trains. So, you are not augmenting the public transport system. How are you going to stop pollution then?
Q: Regarding the law and order situation, the Delhi government could not be expected to do much to improve it since the police reports to the Centre. How does the Congress look at this issue?
A: For law and order, I will give you the example: crime against women. Why did we have the Gender Resource Centre (GRC) programme, which was supposed to be involved in community policing? There was a major thrust on the GRC programme. It was directly under the Delhi government. Instead of expanding the programme, the Kejriwal government scrapped it. The Chief Minister is not bothered about that.
Q:Why is the Congress so focused on the sealing drive which has been continuing in Delhi under the supervision of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee on the apex court’s order?
A: When the sealing drive was earlier launched during the Congress government, then Solicitor General of India G E Vahanvati appeared in the case relating to sealing matters at the Supreme Court in 2006. The UPA government made 73 amendments in (Delhi) Master Plan-2021 and enacted five new laws and brought one Ordinance to tackle the situation arising out of sealing in Delhi. But now both the Delhi government and the Union government have not been able to defend such cases.