Having helmed the Delhi government for over 15 years, Sheila Dikshit was not new to opposition and political criticism. However, the last year of her political life was a struggle to revive the party in the national capital, where she had led the Congress to victory for three consecutive assembly terms— between 1998 and 2003. The Congress doyen had to contend with her failing health even as she battled political infighting.
After keeping away from active politics in Delhi for nearly six years, following her defeat to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal in the 2013 assembly elections, Dikshit returned as the Delhi Congress chief early this year, taking over from senior party leader Ajay Maken, just months ahead of the parliamentary polls.
Although short-lived, her tenure as the state unit chief was rife with controversies and criticism, much of it from within her own party.
Talks were ripe of an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls even before Dikshit took over, but she openly expressed her dissent to a tie-up in Delhi. “We don’t need an alliance with anyone. We are capable of winning the election on our own,” she had said in several media interactions.
These comments often flew in the face of several senior functionaries who were in favour of an alliance with the AAP to “defeat the BJP” and “win a few seats for the Congress”.
When the names of candidates were being finalised for the Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, Dikshit, despite her ill health, stepped up to her party’s call to become a candidate from North East Delhi and lead the party’s campaign. Under her, the Congress managed to improve its vote share, but that was not enough to win even a single seat in Delhi.
Her problems in managing the party affairs did not end with the elections. Rifts between her and Delhi Congress in-charge PC Chacko began to surface in June after she formed a five-member committee to assess the reasons for the poll debacle.
The differences between the two leaders worsened after a letter to Dikshit from the three working presidents of the Delhi Congress (Haroon Yusuf, Rajesh Lilothia and Devender Yadav) started doing the rounds, wherein they blamed her of not consulting them before taking important decisions. The issue took on an unsavoury personal tone, with references being made in these letters to Diskhit’s poor health and inability to manage party matters independently.
None of it deterred the veteran leader, however. “I have a certain style of working and I will continue with that,” Dikshit had said on Thursday.
Sanjay Kumar, director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said there aren’t many politicians who return to local politics after they have held “non-partisan” roles.
“Dikshit probably should not have done that. She would be remembered for a greater political career if she hadn’t, but it also shows her courage and dedication to her cadre,” Kumar said.
Party members felt that there was no one better to become the face of the Congress, especially at a time when the party was desperately looking to revive itself in Delhi.
“She was the best choice. Her legacy can be seen in every street of Delhi,” said senior Delhi Congress leader AK Walia. His words mirror the void Dikshit’s demise has created in the party, not just in the power circles of Delhi but on a national level as well.
First Published: Jul 21, 2019 00:31 IST