The long awaited resignation of Delhi Congress president, Ajay Maken, due to “poor health” came through on Friday, eight days ahead of his 55th birthday, when the former Union Minister put in his papers, following a meeting with Rahul Gandhi. Maken is understood to have provided the high command a shortlist of nominees he would want to be considered amongst his possible successors. He had been unwell for quite a while, and therefore, it does not come as a surprise that he has paved the way for a much fitter person to resuscitate the ailing party, which for the first time in history has no representation either in Parliament or in the Assembly from the city.
Four years ago, Maken had been handpicked by Rahul Gandhi to lead the party, thus replacing Arvinder Singh Lovely, a former Delhi minister, who, in outrage, subsequently joined the BJP, but soon did his “ghar wapsi” after his short but uncomfortable stint with the saffron brigade. Lovely is considered close to both Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, as well as Ahmed Patel, the AICC treasurer and a key adviser to Sonia Gandhi.
Many in the Congress perceive him as the best bet to spearhead the party at this crucial stage, given that the conviction of Sajjan Kumar by the Delhi High Court has once again brought back the focus on the gruesome 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Lovely’s rehabilitation could also possibly send a message to party activists who had exited the organisation to join hands with the BJP, before both the Parliamentary polls of 2014 and the Assembly elections in their respective states. The appointment would indicate that the high command was willing to forgive and forget what had happened in the past, and was now looking forward to a renewed association with former colleagues.
It is being widely suggested that with Lovely as the boss, the Congress leadership could consider entrusting Chattar Singh, a nuts and bolts man, who has tremendous organisational experience, to be a working president along with Hari Shankar Gupta, former MLA and also known for his capacity to mobilise support and launch campaigns. The three amongst themselves have the potential to revitalise the defunct party.
There is intense speculation that Maken was asked to leave because he was opposed to a possible tie up with the Aam Aadmi Party in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress was keen that a leader who was open to the alliance idea and could begin negotiations with Arvind Kejriwal should be entrusted the key position. In this context, the name of Sharmistha Mukherjee, daughter of former President Pranab Mukherjee is also doing the rounds. Although Sharmistha has never been a front-ranking leader in Delhi, yet in her defence it is being stated that even Sheila Dikshit arrived on the capital’s political stage in 1998 after losing four Parliamentary elections. Moreover, it is widely believed that Sharmistha shares a good rapport with Kejriwal despite being in different parties.
So far as the AAP is concerned the question of alliance with the Congress is a sensitive matter. On the one hand, Kejriwal realises that any kind of tie-up with the grand old party would revive it in the city and that too, at the expense of his own outfit. On the other hand, if the AAP and Congress do not combine, the BJP would derive the benefit and might be able to retain its hold over the national capital. The equation which works in practical terms is that a weak Congress suits the AAP, but a strong Congress would be advantageous to the BJP. The political assessment is that Congress, after its recent victory in three Hindi heartland states, can no longer be viewed as ineffectual when it comes to Lok Sabha elections.
In addition, the AAP is desirous that it should be able to retain its presence in Punjab from where in 2014 it had won its four maiden seats in the Lok Sabha. However Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, is opposed to any kind of electoral understanding and is most unimpressed by the AAP and its leadership. He is likely to be in the capital over the weekend, where the high command would possibly sound him out for a probable arrangement in the larger interest of the combined Opposition, whose sole aim is to somehow ensure that the BJP does not retain its hold over the Central government.
A strong lobby in the Congress is also actively pushing the candidacy of 81-year old Sheila Dikshit for the post of the Delhi Congress president, on the ground that the three-time Chief Minister was the most recognisable face of the party in the capital. They have apparently lost sight of the fact that during the 15 years of her governance, the Congress was weakened to such an extent that it continues to remain debilitated. Other names doing the rounds include Yoganand Shastri, Subhash Chopra, Jai Prakash Aggarwal, Mahabal Mishra, Devendra Yadav and Haroon Yusuf.
The twist in the tale is that Maken, who himself opposed any alliance with AAP, could be its beneficiary if the tie-up happens on time. In that case, he could be the Congress nominee from the New Delhi constituency which he has represented twice in the past. The proposal for a seat sharing arrangement could entail five seats for the AAP and two to the Congress. Although it is premature to conjecture over the nature of the pact, political compulsions finally may dictate the agenda. Between us.