The National Capital Territory of Delhi will witness elections to its 70 Assembly seats early next year and the new government has to be formed latest by February 14, 2020.
While the BJP, buoyed by its recent spectacular performance in the Lok Sabha elections, is betting on its nationalist and development agenda, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is banking on its welfare schemes of providing free electricity, free water, ‘Mohalla’ clinics, renovation of MCD schools, et al.
But lagging far behind these two parties in preparations for elections is the grand old party of Indian politics – the Indian National Congress.
Following the demise of Pradesh Congress president Sheila Dikshit, the party seems to be lagging far behind in planning for the upcoming Assembly elections in 2020. Dikshit, a three-time chief minister who is credited to be the architect of modern Delhi and was a household name, breathed her last on July 20 this year.
At the national level, the party seems to be in total chaos since the results of the general elections were declared on May 23. Soon after, Congress president Rahul Gandhi announced his resignation and since then, has been out of the political circuit.
Efforts and more efforts of somehow convincing him to take over the reins of the party failed time and again. The party is at a crossroads over the selection of its next leader at the national level. And same is the case with Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee after Dikshit’s death.
There is no doubt that the demise of Dikshit has cost dearly to the Congress and that too at a very crucial time when elections to the Delhi Assembly are within six months. Party insiders say that several tall leaders left the party, quite disappointed, after they were sidelined, despite their seniority and connect with the people of the capital.
Leaders who left Congress
Five-time MLA Raj Kumar Chauhan, a Dalit leader and a former minister in Dikshit’s cabinet, left the party prior to 2019 Lok Sabha elections, after his name was dropped as a candidate from North-West Delhi constituency even though it was initially approved by the party’s chief election committee.
Arvinder Singh Lovely, a former minister in Dikshit’s cabinet, had left the party and joined the BJP in May 2017. However, it was a brief stay for him in the saffron camp. He returned to the Congress fold after nine months citing that he was a “misfit” in the BJP.
Lovely was elected to the Delhi Legislative Assembly in 1998, being the youngest MLA at the age of 30. He was re-elected in 2003, 2008 and 2013. He has also been the president of Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC).
Krishna Tirath, a former MP and MoS for Women and Child Development in the Manmohan Singh government, too deserted the party in January 2015 and joined the saffron camp. But, she returned to the Congress.
The present contenders
While a few senior leaders can be considered as contenders for the top party post in the state, the age factor stands against their leadership of the DPCC. These include Yoganand Shastri (85), Mangat Ram Singhal (77), Ramakant Goswami (74) and Subhash Chopra (66). Besides age, none of these leaders are acceptable to other leaders of Delhi Congress.
There are only a few names left for the Congress party to choose as its next Delhi president.
Ajay Maken (55) has been an MLA three times, MP twice and also the president of DPCC. He has also held the position of central minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet, but consecutive losses to the Congress under his leadership in Delhi in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, had left him out of favour with the party high command. His comeback to the top Delhi post seems quite an uphill task.
Jai Prakash Agarwal (74), a four-term former MP and former president of DPCC, could be another contender for this post if the party keeps in mind the need of a seasoned and veteran leader among the younger ones.
Mahabal Mishra could be another contender to the top Delhi Congress post. Even at the age 66, Mishra is still a force to reckon with because of his hold on the Poorvanchali (migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) voters. He has risen through the ranks from councillor of the MCD to MLA to MP in 2009.
Fifty-year-old Arvinder Singh Lovely, an experience Congessman and a close confidant of the late three-time CM, could be another contender for the post. Earlier in his career, he has also been members of the NSUI and Youth Congress.
Another party veteran, Haroon Yusuf (61), could be one of the front runners for the post as well. A minority face of the party and a close aide of Dikshit, he is currently one of the working presidents of the Delhi Congress. Yusuf has also been a minister in the Dikshit government.
At the moment, Mahabal Mishra, Jai Prakash Agarwal, Haroon Yusuf and Arvinder Singh Lovely seem to be the top contenders for the post, with not many names surfacing from the national capital.
The 134-year-old Indian National Congress, which has ruled the country for over 60 years after Independence, is perhaps facing the most difficult existential crisis ever!
(Vivek Avasthi is Senior Editor Politics with Business Television India – BTVI)