It's official. A retired, if not tired, 78-year old former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit will lead Congress's campaign in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
By doing so, she has perhaps become the first political leader in independent India who has the honour of being declared the chief ministerial candidate of a state bigger in any way comparable than the city-state Delhi that she ruled for three full terms — be it size, or the political, social and economic complexities.
The distinction is also unique in the sense that she has been declared the chief ministerial candidate of a state as politically crucial as UP when only two years ago she couldn't even manage to win from her own constituency, and ultimately landed the party in a hopeless situation, whereby it scored zeroes in both in the assembly and Parliamentary elections.
In between, she had briefly been the governor of Kerala, a reward for her unstinted loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Irrespective of the final outcome of the UP polls, due in the next six months, it's time for outsourced Janata Dal-United poll strategist Prashant Kishor to cheer. He has made Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi do what the Congress never does — declare its chief ministerial candidate ahead of the polls.
On her part, Dikshit thanked the "party high command" and claimed to work towards winning over a faction-ridden state party unit; she admitted that UP will be a big challenge for her and the Congress. She is also naturally enthusiastic about possibility of Priyanka Gandhi campaigning for the party throughout the state.
Talking to CNN-News 18, she had said, "Priyanka Gandhi is popular among the people. Her being here will add marks to the Party and I am sure she will come."
Indeed, naming Dikshit, a Khatri from Punjab, the daughter-in-law of erstwhile Brahmin leader Uma Shankar Dikshit, is interesting. Firstly, it comes two days after the BJP enforced its 75-year retirement age rule on two union ministers, Najma Heptulla and GM Siddeshwara and made them tender their resignations.
And secondly, it came hours after it was reported that Delhi's anti-corruption bureau had sent her summons regarding the multi-crore water tanker scam.
The only reason why the Congress must have chosen to break its age-old tradition of not declaring a chief ministerial candidate ahead of the polls is because Prashant Kishor asked for a Brahmin to lead the poll campaign in UP. He had given the party three options: Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Sheila Dikshit. The Gandhi siblings could have tested their mettle as the CM candidate, but chose not to do so.
It would be interesting to see how younger voters identify with Dikshit and how far they relate her with her father-in-law, who had been Union minister in the early 70s before serving as governor of Karnataka and West Bengal in the 80s. How far his legacy helps the party and its chief ministerial candidate in 2017 remains to be seen. Since Uma Shankar Dikshit last held a position, in the mid-80s, an entirely new generation of voters have come by.
But also remember — UP has never shown any particular preference for Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the daughter of Hemvanti Nandan Bahuguna, a legendary Brahmin leader of the Congress.
Sheila Dikshit is also a suave urbane politician; how much heat and dust and factionalism can she sustain in Uttar Pradesh? Brought in at the forefront of Congress's politics after an ignominious exit, being named CM candidate of UP is surely a moment of personal glory for her.
She will get organisational support from newly appointed state Congress chief Raj Babbar, vice-president Imran Masood and a big coordination committee, where leaders of all castes and communities would be at hand to help. The role of Sanjay Singh, head of this committee, erstwhile Amethi royal and Rajya Sabha MP, would also be interesting.
Sheila Dikshit could well be the proverbial sacrificial lamb that bears the brunt of a Congress loss. Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi have to be protected, after all.
As for Sheila herself, she has nothing to lose. Win or lose, she will go down in history as the one who made Congress break its long-held tradition and name a CM candidate ahead of the polls; and for leading the party into a terrain which was never to be hers.
First Published On : Jul 14, 2016 18:18 IST