Delhi Elections 2020: Can Congress Survive Without Sheila Dikshit?
Even after her demise, the Congress is trying to invoke Dikshit’s legacy. But can that help revive the party?
With the national capital gearing up to elect 70 members to the Delhi legislative Assembly on 8 February, opinion polls are suggesting a landslide victory for the Aam Aadmi Party. This has left BJP and the Congress scratching their heads over one big question: ‘Kejriwal vs who?’
While the BJP has has not announced their chief ministerial face, the Congress has a different challenge at hand: how to fill the vacuum left behind by three-term Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit?
So, let’s try and understand what’s in store for a post-Sheila Congress in Delhi and how are elections 2020 looking like for the party.
Will Dikshit's Legacy of 15 Years Help?
On 20 July 2019, when Sheila Dikshit died at the Escorts Apollo Hospital, many realised that the she had left behind a void not just in the Delhi unit of the Congress party but also in the country’s politics.
One of the tallest leaders of the Congress party, she successfully held fort in the national capital for three consecutive terms from 1998 to 2013. She is largely credited for giving Delhi its modern and chic look with a lot of infrastructure work having taken place in her tenure.
Despite being from a political family, she was looked at by the voters as an approachable and affable chief minister.
It was under her tenure that reforms in public transport sector led to the shift from polluting vehicles to a CNG-based system. The flagship Delhi Metro project came up during her tenure and became an example for other cities to emulate. She is also credited with laying the foundation of multiple flyovers in a city where vehicular traffic was constantly multiplying
However, the allegations of corruption in the Commonwealth Games and her seemingly “disconnected” response following the Nirbhaya gang rape case harmed her image and culminated in the Congress’ rout in the 2013 Assembly elections. Dikshit herself lost to Arvind Kejriwal in the New Delhi constituency.
The defeat was such that in the 2015 polls, fought under Ajay Maken's leadership, the Congress appeared to be distancing itself from Dikshit's legacy. But that didn't save the Congress as it failed to win even a single seat in that election.
Her appeal went beyond Congress voters.
A CVoter survey conducted in January 2019 said that even 42.5 percent BJP voters said that Dikshit was the best CM Delhi had.
Dikshit continued to he the tallest leader in the Congress in Delhi and was brought back to the centrestage in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She contested from the North-East Delhi seat but lost to BJP’s Manoj Tiwari in what was a Narendra Modi wave.
However, she remained a popular face in Delhi.
According to a survey conducted by India Today Political Stock Exchange, 12 percent voters who took the survey wanted Sheila Dikshit as the chief minister in January 2019.
Not surprisingly, even after her demise, the Congress is trying to invoke her legacy.
In the ongoing elections, one of the key slogans of the party “Congress Waali Dilli” is being used interchangeably with “Sheila Waali Dilli”, clearly aimed at reminding people of the work done in her 15 years at the helm. It only remains to be seen if reminiscing in the glories of the past will be enough for the revival of Congress in Delhi.
What Are The Options for the Congress?
Unlike the BJP, which is focussing the campaign on attacking Kejriwal, the Congress is showcasing the work done during the Dikshit years. Therefore, it is not surprising that many of the former chief minister's Cabinet colleagues have been fielded by the party in the elections, such as Ashok K Walia from Krishna Nagar, Krishna Tirath from Patel Nagar, Haroon Yusuf from Ballimaran, Arvinder Singh Lovely from Gandhi Nagar and Narendra Nath from Shahdara.
Needless to say, they are counting on the support of people who may have directly benefitted from the former CM's work.
Even though the Congress has led a largely performance-oriented campaign, it doesn’t solve the party’s two main problems: the lack of a CM face and its depleting base across Delhi.
Leaders like Walia, Lovely, Yusuf, Tirath and Narendra Nath are finding it challenging to win their own seats, leave alone becoming CM candidates.
According to CVoter's survey in January, the most popular Congress leader in Delhi is Ajay Maken at 7 percent, much behind Kejriwal at over 60 percent. But Maken isn't contesting the elections due to health issues.
Even if the leadership crisis is resolved, the bigger problem for the Congress is its shrinking base across Delhi. Much of its core Poorvanchali, Jat and Dalit voters have moved away from the party. It retains a significant influence in only Muslim dominated pockets.
If the Congress fails to cross a vote share of 15-20 percent, it would be very difficult for the party to stay relevant in Delhi politics.
However, to its credit, it has largely led a constructive campaign in the Delhi elections, criticising Kejriwal only on policy issues. And unlike the BJP, it hasn't shied away from fielding its top leaders in the electoral battlefield.
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