It is not a description that many in her own party may agree with. But Congress veteran, former Kerala Governor and ex-CM of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, has revealed that when she met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July, she “saw a confident man, with a vision” and “a new language”.
That does not mean an endorsement though, because the 76-year-old was quick to add that it remained to be seen how this vision “would be practically implemented”.
Speaking to The Indian Express on a wide range of issues, including the circumstances in which she quit the Governor’s job this year and the prospect of “change” after the Lok Sabha polls, Dikshit said that she is now involved in heading a Congress committee to manage the commemoration of Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary on November 14.
Speaking about her meeting with Modi before resigning as Kerala Governor, Dikshit said, “I saw a confident man, with a vision when I went to meet him, but a big ‘but’ is how all this would be practically implemented. He started with ‘achhe din aayenge’. Now that has completely dropped from his vocabulary. His coinage of new phrases is attractive as it is different. But how far is it practically achieveable, a very big question mark hangs over that.”
Asked whether the Congress needed to take its cue from Modi’s manner of functioning, she said, “Whether we should draw from his style or methodology is something we need to wait and assess. It is too early to try and do anything like he does. He is speaking and promising so many things and has a new language, but we need to see what will happen eventually on his promises.”
On the controversy surrounding her resignation as Governor of Kerala, Dikshit said that she had made it clear to the NDA government before putting in her papers that it must keep in mind “the dignity of the post”.
She said that after the NDA government took charge, she too – like other governors appointed during the UPA regime – “got a call from the Home Secretary”.
”I told him two things, the first that it was a Constitutional position and secondly, that it was a position of respect, and I asked him not to call me up again. He did not. But I met Rajnath Singh, the Home Minister, after that and told him that he must give me 10-12 days to wind up and that he must not treat us all like he did Kamla Beniwal (the Gujarat governor and then Mizoram governor) or the Puducherry Lt. Governor. I told him that he can’t just dismiss us. Even if they must not regard the dignity of the person, they must worry about the dignity of the post. He did not say anything. I told him we had not applied for this post but had been chosen to serve as governors.”
Beniwal was removed in August after she was transferred to Mizoram after Puducherry Lt. Governor Virendra Kataria was relieved of his duties one month earlier.
As for the drubbing her party received in the Lok Sabha elections this year, Dikshit said that it was clear that the people wanted change, “even if not knowing exactly what kind of a change.”
She also attributed the defeat to “too much competition and division at various levels”. “The leadership at the top gave the broad direction, but at the local level, with MPs, MLAs, PCC units and other levels of the party structure, they were not in tandem with each other.”
Asked if there was a communication gap in the campaign with the party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi not speaking enough, Dikshit said, “Our leaders have culturally believed in doing things and not talking much. If you see, even Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi or later, did not just speak, but did things. I feel the media, especially the electronic media were not being fair on us. The Congress person and the BJP person would speak, but they would rush through the Congress person’s words and go on repeating what the BJP person had said.”
She did, however, concede that some “change” was necessary. “Of course, we would have to tune ourselves to the modern circumstances. But I am not sure if what we see around us is just a phase or a more permanent change in India, before we decide to morph.”
Fatigue was another reason for the defeat, she said. “We have done badly before but even we are shocked by us being in double digits. Ten years of our government led to a fatigue setting in and perhaps in the last two-three years, things were not changing as fast as people had come to expect. People usually remember the last phase and forget the good things that had happened before. They wanted change and even if not knowing exactly what kind of a change, they wanted it. There is nothing unnatural about it in a democratic system.”
Dikshit also admitted that her party failed to understand the contribution that movements launched by Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Baba Ramdev had towards creating a full-blown anti-Congress mood in the city and the country. “We did not understand the full magnitude of these forces coming together and we reacted more out of panic when we did, rather than logic.”
On the ‘generational change’ being spoken of as a way to reinvent the Congress, Dikshit said; “Seeing it only as an age thing is a wrong interpretation. The change has to be one of ideas, approach and of understanding what people want to hear. This ‘generation change’ is a phrase. I think people got disillusioned by us somewhere down the line, we need to reinvent ourselves but whether it is mere generational change or to do with ideas being more important ? That has to be evaluated.”
Asked about the recent controversy surrounding party MP Shashi Tharoor, who was removed as Congress spokesperson after he appeared to be endorsing Modi’s Swachh Bharat slogan, Dikshit said, “I would not give it this kind of importance. It is alright if the party has taken a call and removed him as spokesperson but it was harmless. You have to understand Shashi Tharoor to know this.”
On her latest assignment, Dikshit said, “I am a Congressman, from top to toe and will do whatever I am asked to do. I am presently involved in looking to refresh and get people to reflect Jawaharlal Nehru’s role in not just freeing India but IITs, IIMs, foreign affairs, and also building the temples of modern India, its dams and ensuring other scientific achievements.”