The downhill journey for the Congress began in December last year. The party was reduced to only eight seats in the Delhi Assembly. A year later, as it prepares for another Assembly election, the party clearly faces a daunting task. It is no longer in power at the Centre and is losing ground in other states. Senior leaders say the challenge is no longer to win the elections and form a government in Delhi but to hold on to and, perhaps, improve its tally.
After the 2013 rout, Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s Chief Minister for 15 years, blamed then state unit chief Jai Prakash Aggarwal. The two were not known to share a good equation and had differed on a number of critical issues, including distribution of tickets, before the elections.
Aggarwal resigned, replaced by Arvinder Singh Lovely, Gandhi Nagar MLA. “Lovely was asked to ensure the DPCC was lively, took up ground issues and became a people’s party again,” a close associate of Lovely said.
With elections round the bend, the party is now faced with new differences, particularly between Lovely and senior leaders. “Lovely has isolated the senior leadership. His protests involve only leaders he is close to,” a senior leader said.
Senior leaders have repeatedly demanded Dikshit’s return to Delhi politics. Minority MLAs Mateen Ahmed (Seelampur) and Asif Mohd Khan (Okhla) met Sonia Gandhi in July and Rahul Gandhi last week, seeking a revamp of the DPCC. There was speculation that Ahmed and Asif could break away from the party to support a BJP government in order to avoid fresh elections. Lovely denies any differences.
The Congress this time has decided to break from tradition and announce its candidates’ list soon. Lovely has promised a number of “new faces” and an “aggressive campaign”. Sources said the party high command wants a change in strategy, changing about a third of its existing candidates and bringing in new leaders. “One of the new candidates likely to contest in Delhi is Sharmistha Mukherjee, daughter of President Pranab Mukherjee. She might get a ticket from Greater Kailash,” a senior leader said.
Sources said while senior leader Ajay Maken would support the campaign, the party might bring back Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. Sources said former MP Krishna Tirath and former MLA Kiran Walia are among those jockeying for tickets. While Dikshit has been silent on whether she would contest, AICC general secretary in charge of Delhi, Shakeel Ahmed said the decision would be hers, but “she’ll definitely be our star campaigner”.