Sheila Dikshit explains Congress debacle in Delhi. It's not her fault.

“They are desperate to nail me,” says Sheila Dikshit in an interview in the current issue of Tehelka.

At least that is the headline of the interview which you can read in its entirety here.

In real life, Dikshit says nothing of the sort in the interview or at least the excerpts that are published in Tehelka. That headline promises a high-octane political drama and conspiracy the interview does not deliver. Now that the fresh sting of the electoral drubbing is behind her, Sheila Dikshit sounds alternately like she is still campaigning (recounting the achievements of her 15-year tenure) or baffled by the result (a drubbing despite said achievements of her 15-year-tenure). And she takes not a whit of personal responsibility for the party’s loss.

In the post-mortem of the Delhi elections as conducted by Sheila Dikshit, the Congress debacle, its 15 percent vote drop, can be traced to the following reasons:

 Sheila Dikshit explains Congress debacle in Delhi. Its not her fault.

Sheila Dikshit. PTI

Anger against corruption within the Central government. That makes it sound as if the Congress in Delhi was its own animal, divorced from the party heading the UPA, like two strangers having the misfortune of sharing the same name. She blithely brushes aside the FIR the Kejriwal government filed against her accusing it of buying imported streetlights at a much higher cost than needed.

“The CBI has cleared my government of all the charges contained in (the Shunglu and CAG reports)”, Dikshit tells Tehelka. “The only charge against me is that I selected some lights at my residence. Yes, I did that. Just go and see the Delhi secretariat; it’s one of the most beautiful in the country. I selected everything over there too.”

Anger against the price rise in the whole country. Sheila Dikshit didn’t mention her own ham-handed attempts to feel the people’s pain by telling journalists about how she was skipping onions herself. Her problem here is she cannot blame the Congress at the centre for step-motherly treatment the way a Mamata routinely blames Delhi for all of West Bengal’s financial problems. At the same time Dikshit is going around boasting about how Delhi has the highest per capita income in the country – more than Rs 3 lakh. It all makes for a very muddled message which effectively suggests Dilliwalas have no business complaining about mehengai even if they can feel the pinch daily. And it does not help, if at a time of high pocketbook pressure, she keeps talking about her double-decker flyover dreams (which she does in this interview as well).

Divide and Rule. Dikshit admits that the Nirbhaya case was a huge disaster. But she makes no mention of her own high-handed dismissal of the initial outpouring of anger. She now says defensively it was “totally beyond the state government as the Delhi Police is not under us.” What was not “beyond” the state government was a quick compassionate personal response. Instead she told a throng of reporters that she had spoken with the transport department and they had cancelled the license for the bus. For anything else they should go ask police commissioner Neeraj Kumar.

But blaming Delhi’s peculiar situation is a convenient excuse for ducking responsibility as well. Dikshit cites various committees who have recommended that Delhi should get its own police at least for traffic and law and order. “So I have often said that we should divide the police, let the Centre keep VIP security and leave the rest to the state government,” says Dikshit. But she is unable to explain how the police would have acted differently in the Nirbhaya case had they been under her control. Nor has she ever explained why in all these years when her own party was leading the UPA government at the centre, while she was CM in Delhi, she was unable to push for demands like that division of police duties.

It’s never about Sheila. The Congress’s vote drop cannot be attributed in any way to Sheila’s leadership. She does not even try to bear the burden of that failure in the sort of philosophical way Rahul Gandhi bore the results of the Uttar Pradesh election. In the world according to Sheila, everything is someone else’s fault. Everything was someone else’s decision.

Even streetlights, the subject of the Kejriwal FIR. Though the Shunglu committee has one sentence about how the chief minister took an “interest in the selection of streetlights”, she says the eventual decision was taken by the PWD and MCD departments.

“Kejriwal and his ilk must know that no minister actually decides on what is purchased. The Cabinet takes a decision and establishes a budget for something. The bureaucracy does the implementing,” says Dikhsit.

However she is happy to take credit for the implementation of all kinds of things from the Delhi Metro to a liver and biliary sciences centre to the bhagidari system with the Resident Welfare Associations which has been lauded by the United Nations.

Political fatigue. This is what Dikshit finally arrives at as her chosen reason that explains her downfall. “It’s been 15 years, let’s have a change” is a happy reasoning that lets her off the hook, suggesting as it does less of a failure on her part as something that’s just part of a natural cycle. And of course, the Aam Aadmi Party’s promises of cheaper power, free water and less corruption didn’t hurt either. She admits AAP exploited a certain gap because the party was not effective in communicating to people about its achievements and what facilities they could access. But Dikshit is adamant in claiming “we hadn’t lost touch with the people.”

But the people certainly didn’t seem that keen in keeping in touch with her and the party last December. What should worry the Congress most though is not that they lost in the one election they had appeared competitive but that their senior leaders are happy to draw no lessons at all from the debacle.

Updated Date: Feb 17, 2014 14:45:33 IST