The Congress decision to send former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit to Kerala Raj Bhawan, virtually a post-retirement home for a 75-year-old politician who was seeking a fourth consecutive term in office just weeks ago, highlights the increasing despair in the ruling camp ahead of the elections.
Few would be inclined to lend credence to conspiracy theories linking gubernatorial immunity with alleged Commonwealth Games scams, and there are no plausible explanations for the haste with which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was required to choose Nikhil Kumar’s replacement shortly after his return from abroad Tuesday.
Despite the Congress’s drubbing in the assembly elections, Dikshit remained the party’s face in Delhi. Given her political experience, she was expected to be inducted into the Congress Working Committee with a key role at national level. In fact, both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were praising the Dikshit government for transforming Delhi and at one point she was under consideration for a berth in the union cabinet.
Instead, she has been asked to join a list of party colleagues such as Shivraj Patil, Margaret Alva and H R Bhardwaj who were all rehabilitated in Raj Bhavans only because they remained Nehru-Gandhi family loyalists even when they had lost the party’s confidence in various situations. In terms of political relevance and administrative acumen, the Congress has leaders who would have served the country better from Raj Bhawans: A K Antony, Sushil Kumar Shinde, V Narayansamy, and, in fact, half the union council of ministers.
The shunting of a leader of Dikshit’s stature out of active politics weeks before the polls betrays what many Congressmen have been increasingly feeling : that Rahul has his sight set on the 2019 elections. The pervading sense of insecurity was amplified recently when the party nominated Sanjay Singh to the Rajya Sabha from Assam, just to shield Rahul Gandhi in Amethi where the AAP has fielded Kumar Vishwas. Singh had met Narendra Modi in January but couldn’t get any assurance about a Rajya Sabha berth if he, as a BJP candidate, loses to Rahul, according to BJP sources. A desperate Singh gleefully accepted the Congress’s offer to play Rahul’s saviour.
For now, Dikshit’s quick-fix appointment has sent out a wrong message: that the Congress does not expect to come back to power in this election.
D K is a senior editor based in Delhi