The importance of this politically significant development was highlighted when Congress president Sonia Gandhi spoke to Lovely telephonically after he joined the BJP to wish him the very best, thereby obliquely acknowledging his immense contribution to the organisation. It is evident that she was either helpless or unaware that her appointee had no option but to quit after being subjected to continuous humiliation by the present Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) president, Ajay Maken.
To make matters worse, the Youth Congress president, Amit Malik joined the BJP along with Lovely and there is every possibility that in the coming days a number of NSUI leaders may follow suit. Mahila Congress chief Barkha Singh, who launched a scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi and was expelled on Friday, moved over to the BJP on Saturday, to provide company to the duo. Many other Congress functionaries of the capital may do likewise post the polls. Former minister Ashok Walia had publicly denounced the working of the DPCC, declaring upfront that “nobody listens”. He did not campaign and is currently in hospital recuperating from a surgery.
Lovely had been seeking an appointment with the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi for the last several months, to no avail. However, when earlier in the week he made up his mind to team up with the BJP, he was on-the-spot accorded a rousing reception by Amit Shah. Shah summoned all top Delhi leaders to his chamber and in their presence welcomed Lovely and Malik. He minced no words in applauding the 47-year-old Sikh, who has won four Assembly polls from the Gandhi Nagar Assembly segment and is seen in political circles as a potential Member of Parliament or perhaps even a Chief Minister of Delhi. Lovely’s entry into the BJP has provided the party with a credible local Sikh face, who would in the future certainly help the saffron brigade to reap political dividends. He was inducted post-haste into the campaign and given full exposure on the BJP platform in various parts of the city, particularly the trans-Yamuna area, where he is a household name.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian on his reasons for leaving the Congress, Lovely said that “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 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 said that he could recount innumerable instances of his degradation in the party he had helped during his political career. To begin with, in 2015, when the Assembly elections took place, Rahul Gandhi decided to project Maken as the face of the campaign, despite the fact that Lovely 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, Maken was rewarded by the high command by designating him as the PCC chief in his place.
“Prior to the commencement of the municipal poll process, Maken told me that all seats in the trans-Yamuna area would be decided only with my approval. He also started conveying the same impression to aspirants who went to meet him in his office. However, once the ticket distribution exercise began, he stopped taking my phone calls. A three-member committee headed by Anand Sharma was constituted and Sharma did contact me. Maken had the final say and played dirty in the grant of tickets,” Lovely said.
The former minister further charged that party traditions and conventions were ignored to keep him out and he was even excluded from the campaign committee, which was his right as a past president. Efforts to undercut him were made when he, due to his personal equation, took UPCC chief Raj Babbar to the Gandhi Nagar area to campaign for his MCD nominees. Someone rang up Babbar from the DPCC office telling him that he should not have ventured into Gandhi Nagar. The final straw was when during the release of the Congress manifesto, none of the senior leaders received an invite, but learnt about the event through the media. “I thought this cannot go on like this and a Sardar’s dignity had been repeatedly infringed. I decided to join the BJP.”
Earlier, Lovely recalled that when the Punjab campaign was on, he was made a star campaigner by the Congress leadership. But his name figured nowhere during the campaigning for the Rajouri Garden byelection, despite the fact that it had a large Sikh and Punjabi population. He was kept in the dark about Captain Amarinder Singh’s road show in the area. “Even in the elections to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), Maken took a position not to help former president Paramjit Singh Sarna and his group solely because they were considered extremely close to me and my family. How far could I have gone on like this?” he lamented. “Therefore, first I took a decision to leave the Congress. I knew that it could be an end of my political career, but I was prepared to take the risk. I then called up an old associate who got me to meet Amit Shah.”
Last of all, Lovely has promised that he would serve the BJP with all the resources at his command. It remains an unfolding saga.