Sheila Diskshit is no ordinary politician. She has now been the chief minister of Delhi for 15 years. She enjoys complete trust of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Some speculate that she could be Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s Manmohan Singh should there be a UPA III after 2014 general elections. Hence, it is rather intriguing when Sheila makes a public announcement that her daughter feels unsafe in Delhi.
She can’t be so cynical, particularly when her sympathisers begin speculating about her rise whenever there is a suitable vacancy at the Centre, be it for the job of home minister, President and even the prime minister of India. One has to believe that she is stating the truth and her daughter, Latika Dikshit Syed – in her late forties, a social worker, and a rural development consultant – feels unsafe in the National Capital Region.
The situation becomes even more alarming because Latika’s brother, Sandeep Dikshit, is a two-time MP from the East Delhi parliamentary constituency and a Congress spokesman. That the combined influence of her mother and her brother can’t give Latika a sense of security should be a matter of grave concern.
Delhi, being the national capital, has a unique position. It does not have two critical powers that an elected government deals with – policing and land development. Sheila has had a running feud with Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar and it was in full public display in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape case. The Delhi Police didn’t take any of chief minister’s charges lying down and went on to match her word for word, even making accusations about her government.
But why is she launching a scathing attack on Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and his predecessor P Chidambaram? It may have be because the Delhi Police and Delhi’s law and order are directly monitored by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and the Home Minister. Shinde has been at the helm for only the last few months and there is no evidence to suggest that Delhi’s law and order has particularly deteriorated under his reign. This means Sheila is making an indictment on both Chidambaram and Shinde. A section of Delhi Congress leaders are deeply perplexed and fear that it could be counterproductive and end up harming the party’s prospects in the Delhi state elections, which could be held any time between October and December.
Sheila’s critics, both inside and outside the party, point out one simple fact: the governments in the city and the nation are controlled by the Congress. Thus, any indictment of the Delhi Police and, by extension, the Home Ministry and the central government has great potential to boomerang. The fact that she enjoys complete trust and respect of Rahul Gandhi further complicates the matter. Rahul’s laudatory reference at the AICC conclave in Jaipur – he even went to the extent of saying that he had too many things to learn from her – makes her position special in the Congress. Sheila’s close personal bonding with Sonia and Rahul was in full public glare at the Congress’s big bang public rally in support of FDI in retail at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi.
Did she complain about the law and order issue to Sonia and Rahul? That’s not clear but she did write to the prime minister and as she said in an NDTV interview, “I am not satisfied with the law and order … I wouldn’t be able to judge whether security has improved after December 16 or not.”
Asked whether her letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention in ensuring better policing in the city bore result, she said better policing was not a “magic wand”.
“The PM did respond to my letter asking for better policing. I hope there is better policing but better policing is not a magic wand,” she said.
“… One can’t put everything on the government. I feel concerned about law and order even though it is not under me because ours is an elected government. …I am not saying police reporting to lieutenant governor is okay or not but that is the system. But, this does not stop us from doing what we can do within our limitations,” she said.
Is she making these remarks because she is a hard-boiled politician? She would be sensing the popular outrage against the Congress, which could reflect in the coming Delhi assembly elections. It was thus prudent of her to stay on the side of popular anger and channelise it against the Delhi Police and the Home ministry. The people would thereby make a distinction between the two Congress-led government’s – the one in the capital and the one at the Centre – and not punish her. She was heckled by the protestors at Jantar Mantar when she went there to show her solidarity, but she and her advisors would hope that was a temporary phenomenon and with the passage of time she would be seen as a sober fighter who did not spare even her own colleagues at the Centre on the critical issue of public safety.
This time around Delhi faces a triangular fight involving the Congress, the BJP and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party. Sheila government had its share of corruption charges – CWG, electricity and so on. But she has survived comfortably. With a fourth consecutive win she will not only create a history for the Congress but also take an unsurpassable lead over any other party colleague in the Congress when the time of reckoning comes.