The Congress party’s decision to appoint Subhash Chopra, a 72-year-old leader of Sheila Dikshit’s vintage, as the president of its Delhi unit months ahead of key Assembly elections is practical politics of an unusual variety. This is because the decision of the Congress has practically nothing to do with electoral politics.
The appointment reflects the grand old party’s natural proclivity towards playing it safe and staying away from risks. It also underscores the fact that the old guard in the Congress is holding the reins now after Rahul Gandhi resigned as party president in July.
Not for what he might do, but for what he probably won’t
The reason for Chopra’s appointment is simple: he is the least unacceptable to all the warring factions in the Delhi Congress. Put another way, Chopra has not been chosen for what he can do, but because no one expects him to do very much.
Every faction wanted its leader as PCC chief, and there was no one individual whom every faction would accept — it was in this situation that Chopra’s “lottery lag gayi”, as a senior Congress leader said.
“Chopra is neutral,” said a top AICC functionary. “He can take all the groups along. Had J P Aggarwal been appointed, Sandeep Dikshit and Ajay Maken would not have cooperated (with him). Had Maken been appointed, Aggarwal and Sandeep and all those who were close to Sheila would have not accepted (them). Had anybody from the Sheila camp been appointed… the situation would have been the same.
“The party had to make a senior leader (PCC chief). There was no other choice,” the AICC functionary said.
A consensus against candidature of Kirti Azad
In fact, all the factions had come together to oppose the appointment of cricketer-turned-politician Kirti Azad to the job, arguing that he was an outsider on two counts — that he is not from Delhi, and that he is not a dyed-in-the-wool Congressman.
Azad, the son of the veteran Congress leader Bhagwat Jha Azad who was Chief Minister of Bihar for a little over a year in the late 1980s, was the BJP Lok Sabha MP from Darbhanga for two consecutive terms, 2009-19. Azad joined the Congress in the run-up to this year’s elections.
Azad has been appointed the chief of the Congress campaign committee. One senior leader, who had opposed his appointment as DPCC president, said he had no problems with Azad’s current assignment.
“There is a considerable Purvanchali vote in Delhi (to whom Azad might be able to appeal). But we could not have accepted the appointment of someone who came from the BJP just months ago as DPCC president.”
Chopra’s ‘not so bad’ relations will be helpful
Chopra was president of the Delhi PCC for six years from 1998 to 2003, and had led the party to victory in the (erstwhile) Municipal Corporation of Delhi elections of 2002, and the Assembly elections of 2003.
After he made way for Chaudhary Prem Singh, the position went to Ram Babu Sharma, Aggarwal, Arvinder Singh Lovely, Maken and Shiela Dikshit in that order.
Senior party leaders accept that resurrecting Chopra was not the kind of outside-the-box thinking that the Congress is desperately in need of at the moment. His appointment will probably not do much for the party in the perception battle.
However, the leaders argue, he can “keep the party together”. His strongest point is that his equations with the likes of Maken, Aggarwal, leaders in the erstwhile Sheila Dikshit camp are “not so bad”.
P C Chacko, the AICC in-charge for Delhi, said: “He is the best person to carry everybody together… all the people together to an election situation… You can draw any conclusion (you like).”
But is he dynamic? (Did Congress have a choice?)
“The situation is not such that we could have experimented. Considerable damage has been done to the party in the last four months. Sheila and Chacko damaged the party by fighting bitterly. They should not have done that. Chacko should have been shunted out a long time ago… But you know the situation our party,” another senior leader told The Indian Express.
“We could have experimented had we been in power. We did not develop a leadership when we were in power for 15 years (1998-2013). But the big leaders wanted to make their children leaders. The leaders ensured that a new leadership does not emerge,” a former MLA from Delhi said.
Chopra’s appointment also follows the pattern of the old guard returning to top positions in the Congress. Just a month ago, the party appointed Kumari Selja as Haryana Congress president. Bhupinder Singh Hooda was appointed CLP leader. In Maharashtra, 66-year-old Balasaheb Thorat was appointed president. And in Jharkhand, 72-year-old Rameshwar Oraon was appointed PCC president.