Nine months after he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, on the eve of the municipal corporation elections, citing his continuous humiliation in the Congress, former Delhi minister Arvinder Singh Lovely did his ghar wapsi, on being welcomed by Rahul Gandhi. What convinced him in rejoining the Congress was a phone call from Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, reassuring him that his grievances would be redressed. Earlier, Lovely’s former colleague and close friend Haroon Yusuf played a critical role in his re-induction to the grand old party, helping him bury the hatchet with Ajay Maken, who perhaps was the prime reason for his leaving the Congress. Maken on his part visited Lovely’s residence on Saturday morning along with AICC (Delhi) in-charge, P.C. Chacko and took him to meet Rahul Gandhi prior to the formal announcement.
However, in all likelihood what weighed on Lovely’s mind making him return to the Congress was the impending Assembly byelection from Gandhi Nagar which he has represented four times. Gandhi Nagar is one of the 20 seats likely to fall vacant following the disqualification of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs by the Election Commission in the office of profit case. In Lovely’s estimation, he would stand a better chance of winning if he contested on a Congress ticket, since over 30,000 Muslim voters in the constituency would be averse to supporting him if he was fighting on the BJP platform.
His calculation is contrary to that of political strategists who believe that Lovely’s candidacy may prevent the AAP from retaining the seat, yet would facilitate the BJP to win from there. The premise is based on the simple political logic that since the Congress had become extremely debilitated in the capital, ironically so wherever it would perform strongly, the BJP would win. The underlying factor for this is that the Congress would thus be splitting the anti BJP vote to ensure the saffron win. Otherwise, the AAP enjoyed an overwhelming supremacy in virtual straight fights over the BJP.
Many Congress activists are of the view that former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who “made up” with Ajay Maken earlier in the week, also played a part in his return to the party fold. The general speculation is that she was responsible for the call which Priyanka Gandhi Vadra made to Lovely who was miffed at not being accorded any status in his new party. Sheila Dikshit’s interest in Lovely primarily is to ensure that strong Congress leaders such as him and Ashok Walia make a comeback to enable her son Sandeep Dikshit to re-emerge as the main contender for the East Delhi Lok Sabha seat.
Sheila Dikshit was also aware that soon after Lovely had joined the BJP, both Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka, in an unusual gesture had called to wish him the very best, thus acknowledging his contribution to the Congress. However, Dikshit and Ajay Maken’s political truce is as deceptive as the two leaders themselves, and may vanish into thin air at a political opportune moment for either of them. In any case, both have a bleak political future in the city, given the fact that both had forfeited their deposit in the last polls.
Dikshit had the dubious distinction of losing by 26,500 votes to Arvind Kejriwal in December 2013, while Ajay Maken lost his deposit, first as the sitting Union Minister from the New Delhi constituency in 2014, and later in 2015 the Sadar Bazar Assembly segment. Thus, their facade of togetherness has politically speaking no meaning since they both are in the limelight, not because of their support among grassroots workers, but due to their close proximity to the Gandhi family.
Lovely’s return to the Congress needs to be also examined in the context of his belief that he should have been granted greater importance in the BJP, where while welcoming him, party president Amit Shah had referred his defection as the “biggest catch” for his party after Himanta Biswa Sharma in Assam. Having spent most of his political years in the Congress, he was finding it exceedingly difficult to relate to his new-found colleagues, against whom he had contested all his major political battles. The BJP deserves credit for allowing Lovely to adjust in their fold and when his son got married in December, top functionaries, Ram Lal and Shyam Jaju attended a party hosted by him at the National Sports Club of India (NSCI). Subsequently, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tewari and senior leader Ramvir Singh Bidhuri travelled to Muscat to join in on the wedding celebrations. The change of heart occurred during the past ten days, and to begin with, Lovely called on Bidhuri at his farmhouse in South Delhi to seek his advice. Bidhuri, who is referred to as “Dada” has, in the past, too given guidance to Lovely, Haroon Yusuf and Ajay Maken. He was a contender for the Chief Minister’s position following the 2013 Assembly polls, where the BJP had secured 32 seats. Lovely approached Bidhuri to try and convince him to rejoin the Congress along with him, but the senior leader made it abundantly clear that that was completely out of the question.
In Delhi’s political circles, Bidhuri is viewed as someone who was responsible for the decline of Congress strongman H.K.L. Bhagat and thus, enjoys the respect of younger politicians. Lovely, again, went to meet Bidhuri on Friday, and this time Haroon Yusuf also accompanied him. Bidhuri refused to budge from his position, and cautioned Lovely that he was making a mistake, since the BJP was a party with a future which was not the case with the Congress.
Earlier, at the time when he had shifted to the BJP, probably with the help of Sudhanshu Mittal, a senior BJP leader, Lovely was advised against the move by his two very concerned well-wishers, the Sarna brothers. The Sarnas have been a major force in the Sikh politics of Delhi, and the elder brother, Paramjit Singh Sarna was the president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Prabandak Committee (DSGPC) for more than half a dozen times.
The brothers are extremely close to Lovely’s father, and are, therefore, respected highly by him as well. They had told Lovely that he should have never in the first place departed from the Congress. Now that he was planning his return, he would find it difficult to command the same respect. The Sarnas would know so since they have been close to Punjab veteran leader, the late Gurcharan Singh Tohra, former Delhi Chief Ministers’ Madan Lal Khurana and Sheila Dikshit at different stages of their career.
Lovely, while returning to the Congress would have done better had he studied the decline of Delhi’s three topmost leaders of all times—Chaudhury Brahm Parkash, Bhagat and Khurana whose downfall commenced after they severed links with the parent organisation. On return, Bhagat and Khurana were unable to revive their supremacy in their respective parties, and Brahm Parkash simply faded into public oblivion. Ajay’s uncle, the late Lalit Maken, perhaps was the only exception of making a comeback in Congress politics after he had left it to join hands with former Karnataka Chief Minister Devraj Urs. Maken in 1984 was elected to the Lok Sabha from South Delhi, but soon afterwards was a victim of an assassin’s bullets along with his wife Geetanjali and a worker, Balkrishan on 31 July 1985. It, however, is important to revisit Lovely’s reasons for leaving the Congress when he joined the BJP prior to the Delhi municipal polls. What he had stated at that time is as follows: Speaking to The Sunday Guardian on his reasons for leaving the Congress, Lovely said, “It was an impulsive decision. My self-respect and dignity had been constantly bruised by the behaviour of Ajay Maken, who was once a friend but left no stone unturned to stab me in the back.” Maken had emotionally reacted to his departure referring it as “a personal blow” and one TV channel witnessed him being reduced to tears. He later said that Lovely’s “defection” would have no impact on the outcome.
On his part, Lovely retaliated by later specifying that the results in the municipal wards near Maken’s home turf of Rajouri Garden would demonstrate who was going to make the difference in the polls. Once a part of the Sheila Dikshit government, the former DPCC chief stated that he could recount innumerable instances of his degradation in the party he had assisted during his political career. To begin with, in 2015, when the Assembly polls took place, Rahul Gandhi decided to project Maken as the face of the campaign despite the fact that he was the party Chief in Delhi. The results were for all to see, and the Congress seeking votes in Maken’s name forfeited its deposit in 63 out of 70 seats. The campaign spearhead himself lost his deposit in the Sadar Bazar Assembly constituency. However, the high Command rewarded Maken by designating him as the PCC Chief in his place.