Months before the Lok Sabha elections, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) president Ajay Maken Friday resigned from his post citing health reasons. Sources in the party said a meeting was held on Thursday evening, where Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge P C Chacko accepted the resignation.
While a debilitating back pain has been cited as one of the reasons for Maken’s exit, sources said the constant talk among central leaders about the need to have an alliance with the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi could have played a part.
Chacko told The Indian Express that Rahul would decide on Maken’s successor after his return from Amethi, and denied an AAP angle to his resignation.
A two-time MP from Delhi, Maken had replaced Arvinder Singh Lovely after the Congress lost to the AAP in the 2015 Assembly polls. He had submitted his resignation in April last year, after the loss in the municipal elections, but the party had refused to accept it.
Thanking Rahul and Congress workers, Maken wrote on Twitter, “As President of Delhi Congress unit, I have received a lot of love and support from the workers and our leader Rahul Gandhi. It wasn’t easy in these difficult circumstances. For this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
While there is talk that former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit could be made the next chief, sources in the party said no decision has been taken.
Addressing the claims, Dikshit told The Indian Express: “I have not been communicated anything as of now. The decision has to be taken by the high command. I can’t refuse or accept to take the post. Let me see what the party decides.”
While a senior central leader said Dikshit’s age could be a factor while taking a decision, another claimed she is willing to take over if the party gives her the opportunity.
“Her name has been doing the rounds for quite some time now. Makenji has not been keeping well and the party needs a face for Delhi. This is an important phase, with Lok Sabha elections approaching. There are many other names, too,” said a senior leader.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Maken said he had requested the party relieve him from the post in September last year: “I am not 100 per cent fit. A PCC president before the elections should be 100 per cent fit… rather, more than 100 per cent fit.”
He also said the Congress had tremendously improved its graph in the capital in the last three years. “We have consistently increased our vote share and won quite a number of seats in the municipal polls,” he said.
Sources in the party said Maken had been uncomfortable with talk among central leaders about the possibility of an understanding with AAP. While Maken and Chacko refused to comment, party sources said Maken was strongly opposed to the move. Senior high command leaders said Maken had told them that the AAP’s popularity was dipping.
“Being a national party, the Congress should not lose its existence in the capital… that seems to be his view,” a senior leader in the know told The Indian Express.
Another leader said Maken felt “extremely uncomfortable, both ideologically and principally,” with the prospect of aligning with the AAP — a party that rose to prominence by hitting out at the Congress and the UPA government, and against whom the Delhi Congress had been campaigning for the last three-four years.
The Delhi Congress, under Maken, had been carrying out a series of campaigns against the Kejriwal government, accusing it of corruption and non-performance. “Every time a Congress worker from Delhi meets the central leaders, he or she returns confused,” said a Delhi Congress leader and an AICC secretary.
While Rahul is yet to decide Maken’s successor, lobbying has already started. Among the contenders are veterans and former ministers Raj Kumar Chauhan, Haroon Yusuf and Yoganand Shastri, former MP Mahabal Mishra and young leaders such as AICC secretaries Devender Yadav and Naseeb Singh.
Rahul had been following a pattern of appointing a president with three or four working presidents in states, and many leaders felt that could be the way in Delhi as well.
On Thursday night, Chacko had held a meeting with AICC secretaries from Delhi, including Yadav, Singh, Rajesh Lilothia, Anil Kumar Chaudhary and Tarun Kumar.
“Discussions to bring back Dikshit has been on for a while now, but there are other names too. The party will finalise the name in next two-three days,” senior leader Dr A K Walia told The Indian Express.