Delhi Election 2020: Rahul-Sonia Tussle Harmed Delhi Congress?

Congress in Delhi now holds a dubious distinction of drawing blank in the national capital on four occasions. 

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Delhi Election 2020: Has Rahul-Sonia Tussle Harmed Delhi Congress?
i

Just as the Congress story was stabilising after Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana assembly verdict, Delhi outcome has come as a rude jolt to the grand old party. Coming at a time when interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is not keeping well and insisting upon finding her successor by March end, the Congress is found groping in the dark.

In conventional wisdom, Rahul Gandhi is an obvious successor. But there is resistance from both the sides.

Rahul wants a free hand to enforce his prescription and recipe to run the organization, whereas mother Sonia wishes him to inherit the party in its present form, hierarchical structure, and key appointees.

In the Congress, Rahul faces no challenger but in the absence of electoral success, the party expects him to maintain the status quo. This discreet and informal tug of war is preventing the otherwise logical transition within the organisation.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. File photo.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. File photo.
(Photo: The Quint)
Snapshot
  • A discreet and informal tug of war between Rahul Gandhi and the old guard is preventing the otherwise logical transition within the Congress.
  • Sonia and Rahul could not agree on state leadership and the candidate selection process was messy.
  • Candidates and party failed to organise public meetings and rallies.
  • During the campaign, there were numerous instances of glaring discrepancies.
  • While Priyanka Gandhi and some other Congress leaders took stringent anti CAA stand, opinion or inputs from Delhi Congress unit or the candidates were not sought.

Tussle Between Rahul and Sonia Deprived Delhi of Leadership

This tussle was on when Delhi polls were announced and fought. Even six months after Sheila Dixit’s demise, the party could not figure out her successor. There were a number of contenders: young, middle-aged and veterans.

At an informal level, Rahul and Sonia—who invariably meet once in a day—could not decide among Ajay Maken, Sandeep Dixit, Sharmishta Mukherjee, Rajesh Lilothia, Arvinder Singh Lovely and half a dozen other aspirants.

Finally, after countless deliberations, old war-horse Subhash Chopra was pressed into action on account of his ability to mobilize more ‘resources’ than votes.
DPCC President Subhash Chopra (R) with party leader Ajay Maken at the release of the Congress manifesto for the Delhi Assembly elections, at a press conference at the DPCC office, in New Delhi, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020.
DPCC President Subhash Chopra (R) with party leader Ajay Maken at the release of the Congress manifesto for the Delhi Assembly elections, at a press conference at the DPCC office, in New Delhi, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020.
Photo: PTI/Kamal Singh

The candidate selection process was messy even as different factions belonging to Subhash Chopra, Ajay Maken, Kirti Azad, J P Aggarwal, and those loyal to late Sheila Dixit fought over tickets.

AICC’s point man P C Chacko swung into action, forming and packing various poll panels with numbers. 607 persons were accommodated in manifesto, publicity, campaign and other panels. These panels, however, seldom met in full strength.

By the time they worked out formalities, the Congress nominees were already chosen and out in the field. The Congress list of 40 star campaigners was never pressed into action. While most of them were residents of Delhi, candidates and party failed to organise public meetings and rallies.

No Cooperation Visible Between Congress Internal Factions

Delhi Congress witnessed open fighting between DPCC chief Subhash Chopra and cricketer-turned politician Kirti Azad. According to some party insiders, sometimes the arguments became so heated even in front of Sonia Gandhi that she had to intervene and scold them for ‘unbecoming conduct.’

Kirti Azad is said to have sent missives to Sonia alleging “sabotage”. His wife, Poonam, was a Congress candidate.

Cricketer turned politician Kirti Azad. 
Cricketer turned politician Kirti Azad. 
(File Photo: IANS)

It is believed that while Kirti Azad, Puja Chopra (daughter of DPCC chief Subhash Chopra) and Manish Chatrath (vice chairman DPCC panel on publicity) wanted to run ‘Badal Daalo’ and ‘Aisi Hamari Hogi Dilli’ campaign, AICC’s social media head Rohan Gupta went ahead with ‘Congress Wali Dilli’ campaign.

Congress insiders wonder why party focussed on Sheila Dixit era with a sense of nostalgia when the former Delhi chief minister was herself decimated in 2013 state assembly polls.

Arvind Kejriwal had beaten Sheila Dixit by a margin of 25, 864 votes from New Delhi constituency, when Dixit and Kapil Sibal were busy describing him as ‘non-actor’ and ‘no factor’ in Delhi politics.

A disgruntled Congress leader quoted Robert Browning as saying, “how sad and bad and mad it was - but then, how it was sweet” to illustrate how the Congress viewed Delhi politics from the prism of Sheila Dixit era nostalgia. Post-results, however, many Congress leaders are harking back at the glorious Sheila era.

Very few would recall how on the day of Delhi Congress manifesto launch, named ‘Aisi hogi hamari dilli’, a different song was played, allegedly on the insistence of a leader but the Congress high command remained a mute spectator.

Discrepancies in Delhi Congress Campaign

During the campaign, there were numerous instances of glaring discrepancies between what was written in the party manifesto and party’s advertising and publicity material. For example, Congress manifesto Point no. 34 read, “ INC will ensure each family living, including tenants and owners in JJ clusters get a flat of 350 Sq feet at the same place of their slums”. But in the hoardings, the Congress was seen promising voters 25 Sq meters i.e 269 sq feet. In the end, voters on 8 February did not bother much.

While Priyanka Gandhi and some other Congress leaders took stringent anti CAA stand, opinion or inputs from Delhi Congress unit or the candidates were not sought.

On the ground, most Congress nominees remained cagey on issues of hyper-nationalism, Shaheen Bagh, Jamia and JNU protests due to their lack of conviction.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra along with her husband Robert Vadra and son Raihan Vadra, who is a first-time voter, arrive to cast their vote during the Delhi Assembly elections at a polling station, in Lodhi Estate area of New Delhi, Saturday, 8 February.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra along with her husband Robert Vadra and son Raihan Vadra, who is a first-time voter, arrive to cast their vote during the Delhi Assembly elections at a polling station, in Lodhi Estate area of New Delhi, Saturday, 8 February.
(Photo: PTI/Kamal Singh)

Congress in Delhi now holds a dubious distinction of drawing a blank in the national capital on four occasions –2015 and 2020 assembly polls and 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Double pair, in cricket lingo.

(Rasheed Kidwai is the author of ‘24, Akbar Road, Ballot’ and ‘Sonia: a Biography’. He is a Visiting Fellow at the ORF. He tweets at @rasheedkidwai. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!