For the first time since the ignominy of electoral defeat at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party, former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit can breathe easy. And it was her appointment as Governor of Kerala that did it.
It all happened in the three months since the December 4 Assembly elections. The Congress was decimated in the elections —- its tally plunging from 43 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly to a paltry eight. After 15 years as Delhi’s chief minister, Dikshit moved from her palatial Moti Lal Marg residence to a three-bedroom apartment on Firozshah Road. And with a new Delhi Congress president taking charge, she was on the brink of political irrelevance.
Then late on Tuesday, Dikshit was appointed Governor of Kerala. She replaces Nikhil Kumar, a former Delhi Police commissioner, who is likely to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Bihar.
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Wednesday once again brought well-wishers carrying bouquets of flowers and mementos to Dikshit’s flat, which few had visited since she moved there last month.
Sources said Dikshit had met Congress President Sonia Gandhi for dinner on Monday — a first in two months.
But the three-time CM on Wednesday said the announcement came as a surprise even to her. “I had no idea about this new task. I had not asked for anything. I only knew in my heart, even in the run-up to the Delhi elections, that I would never contest again. I have served the people of Delhi for 15 years to the best of my abilities and I am a little tired now,” she said.
Her delight, however, is easily apparent. “The thought of leaving Delhi is hard to accept, but I am happy. I will be going to the most beautiful state in the country after all,” Dikshit said. She said she would leave for Kerala on Monday or Tuesday.
A close aide of hers admits that the announcement has helped Dikshit. “I have been with her for five years now and I know her moods. For the last two months, it was as if she was in hibernation. Now, she is smiling and meeting people. I only hope I can go with her,” the aide said.
The 75-year-old Congress veteran spent the better part of Wednesday greeting well-wishers, including sitting and former MLAs, MPs and partymen.
Close friends even brought Dikshit a cake that she shared with her family, including daughter Latika.
After discussing poll strategies, the party’s chances ahead and her stint as CM, her advice to one and all was the same: “Work hard for the party. Noting is above the party. Work for the party and spread the message of the Congress and its ideals and nothing can stop us.”
Dikshit also admitted that the party had failed the people. “The defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections was shameful. We did not take our message of development in the last 15 years to the people. But I must also say that the voters were swayed by false promises made by the AAP. Free water and cheaper electricity are easy promises but difficult to deliver. See what happened to their government,” Dikshit said.
But she believes the party could fare better in the LS elections. “We have seven sitting MPs in Delhi and I believe that with a good positive campaign we can retain all of them. It will mean hard work. But I know we can bounce back,” she said.
Amid allegations from the AAP and the BJP that her appointment as governor was to shield her from prosecution in cases registered against her, Dikshit said, “This is all rubbish. The CAG, the CVC and the CBI have given the Delhi government a clean chit, not to mention the Shunglu Committee. Let them investigate us for as long as they want.”
Asked what she would miss about Delhi the most, Dikshit said without hesitation. “Everything.”