After serving Delhi for fifteen years, Congress veteran Sheila Dikshit is ready to head Uttar Pradesh. The party has announced her as the Chief Ministerial candidate for next year’s Assembly polls in the politically crucial state.
The party’s decision was announced by senior Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi. “Sheila has been selected for her experience and good work,” he said. In response to this, she said, “It’s a huge responsibility and I want to thank Congress high command.” Her husband, senior bureaucrat Vinod Dikhsit, belonged to Uttar Pradesh and Ms Dikshit has in the past served as a parliamentarian from the state. This announcement came after the Congress on Tuesday announced Raj Babbar as the president of Uttar Pradesh unit of the party.
Election strategist Prashant Kishor recommended that Dikshit should play a major role in the party’s poll campaign in the state as she is a prominent Brahmin face and could help Congress regain support of the electorally sizeable community. Dikshit is the daughter-in-law of prominent Congress leader from UP Uma Shankar Dikshit, who was a Brahmin face and had served as a Union minister and governor for a long time. She referenced herself as “a bahu (daughter-in-law) of Uttar Pradesh” who was willing to serve the state in any role.
Dikshit had met party President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi last month during which she was said to have been sounded by them for a leading role in UP. The Brahmin community, a traditional vote bank of Congress, had shifted allegiance to BJP in the aftermath of the Mandir-Mandal politics and a section in Congress feels it should make efforts to win back the support of the community. A large chunk of Brahmin votes had also gone to Mayawati’s BSP in the past when she gave tickets to many candidates belonging to the community. The community’s support determines the poll outcome in several seats in central and eastern UP.
The Congress by convention has never projected a Chief Ministerial face as it may result in disgruntled anti-groups joining hands to torpedo the election efforts. But Kishor insisted on a face and leaked it to the media that he prefer a Brahmin face like the Gandhis themselves or someone like Sheila Dikshit – the three-time Chief Minister of Delhi. He was not ready to place his bets on tried and tested – or rather tried and tested – Congress leaders from the state.
Kishor was clear that there has to be a CM face and a formidable one at that if the party were to finish with a respectable tally. The Assembly election setback in Assam, Kerala and elsewhere in May prompted the party to show urgency. Once it became clear that neither Rahul nor sister Priyanka Vadra would not like to directly shoulder the responsibility, the party sounded out Dikshit. She too was reluctant but agreed after some persuasion.
To the credit of Sheila Dikshit, she was considered an efficient administrator in Delhi. When the Commonwealth Games of 2010 were on the cusp of collapse, she was asked by the Central government to clear the mess. Projects like a special bus-only corridor, built at great cost only to result in daily traffic jams, stained her final years in office.
In 2013, she was ousted by political novice Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. Their emphasis on fighting corruption and ridding Delhi of the sort of VIP culture associated with the Congress helped them collate a huge victory.