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Sachin Pilot to Kanhaiya Kumar — in Delhi, Congress brings out big guns to reclaim lost MCD glory

Congress ruled MCD till 2007, but then started losing the polls. It was Sheila Dikshit-led Congress govt in Delhi which trifurcated MCD in 2011, to be reunified by Modi govt earlier this year.

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New Delhi: Relegated to the political margins in the national capital, the Congress is trying to regain lost ground in the upcoming Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections. Elections for the MCD are scheduled to be held on 3 December and the Congress has lined up leaders from across states to campaign for the party.

The list, accessed by ThePrint, includes Rajasthan leader Sachin Pilot, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Uttar Pradesh MLA Aradhana Misra, Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president, popular student leader Kanhaiya Kumar.

Congress general secretary Ajay Maken and Arvinder Singh Lovely, who was formerly the chief of the party’s Delhi unit, will also be campaigning, as will Dr. Ajoy Kumar, who has replaced Shaktisinh Gohil as the party’s in-charge in Delhi, since the latter is busy with the Gujarat elections scheduled for next month.

The Congress enjoyed a strong hold on the national capital’s municipal body till 2007, but its seat share has been dwindling since.

It was the Congress government in Delhi, under former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, which had trifurcated the MCD in 2012, into the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC). The three were re-unified by the Bharatiya Janata Party government (BJP) at the Centre earlier this year.

Talking to ThePrint, Dikshit’s son and former MP, Sandeep Dikshit said that the MCD under the Congress treated the Delhi government run by his mother as an “opposition government”. Sandeep is also one of the party’s star campaigners for the coming polls.

“When Mrs. Dikshit was the chief minister and the Congress leadership was in charge of the MCD, the entire Congress leadership in MCD was against her. So, it was almost like an opposition government. In fact, she (Sheila Dikshit) got more support when the MCD was run by the BJP. She got work done through officers. She got work done through her ability to get people on board,” said Sandeep.

He added: “In the seven-eight years (between 2007 and 2013) that the BJP was running the MCD with her as Chief Minister, there was never a big issue. I remember, there would be a (BJP-led MCD) delegation outside the CM’s house, they would protest, there would be a lot of hullabaloos, but once they were inside, we’d all have a nice meeting and the MCD would get what they want. She did not play politics when it came to governance issues”, said Dixit.

In contrast, he claimed, current Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, “only does politics”.

The Congress was in power at the former MCD till 2007, having won the 2002 and 1997 polls handsomely. However, after 2007, the party’s seat share started shrinking, ostensibly due to the in-fighting between the Sheila Dikshit government (with CM Sheila Dikshit at its helm) and the Congress leadership in the MCD, helping the BJP to gain ground and win the 2007 MCD polls.

Though never confirmed, it is widely believed that it was this rift between the Dikshit government and the MCD (irrespective of party colour) which led the former chief minister to bring in two changes in MCD legislation. The first was restricting mayoral terms to a period of one year and the second, the trifurcation, allegedly to ensure that her control over administration in the national capital was not challenged.


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Losing relevance

In 2007, the Congress won 69 seats of 272 in the MCD. In 2012, after the MCD was trifurcated into three separate bodies, it won 77 seats of 272 across the three municipalities. In the next election in 2017, its tally came down to just 31.

For the past 15 years, the party has been relegated to the sidelines.

The battle this year seems to be pitched between the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party, with the Congress being seen as a “bit player”. So much so, that the BJP has not even bothered to include the Congress in its campaign song for the polls, where it squarely targets the AAP.

The Congress meanwhile, is trying to make an impact with its star campaigners. On Sunday, the party also released a list of 250 candidates for the upcoming polls.

Speaking to ThePrint, Ajoy Kumar said that the list of star campaigners consists of leaders with local connect and that the party will be fighting the polls on local issues.

“The others are people who have Delhi connect or have spent time in Delhi. For example, Bhupinder Hooda is a leader from Haryana, but people in Delhi know him well. Sachin, similarly, has spent time in Delhi. People want to see those faces. The national leaders who are campaigning have either lived in Delhi or have been politically responsible in Delhi at some point,” said Kumar.

He added: “We are trying to get the whole spectrum of Congress leaders, from all social segments and all religions, because that’s what Congress is. We also want to give a pan-India perspective to the elections. Our opponents keep saying ‘double engine’ (a reference to the phrase used by the BJP for states where it is in power in addition to at the Centre) but we have to fight on local issues.”

“We are fighting malaria, chikungunya, dengue, the most corrupt department in the world and also a polluted party who’ve made Delhi the most polluted city in the whole world,” Kumar further said.

The MCD power play

Talking about the MCD trifurcation in 2011, Sandeep said the Delhi government at the time felt that the MCD was becoming a “behemoth”, as a result of which it was unable to perform its duties effectively.

“Mrs. (Sheila) Dikshit had formed a committee which consisted of a former chief secretary and some other senior people to take a look at reforms that the MCD required. They opined that the MCD was becoming a behemoth and was very difficult to handle. The MCD is something that looks into people’s houses, so how can one body control the entire area like a government?” said Sandeep.

He added: “They (the committee) originally came up with the idea of the MCD being split up into five separate bodies, not three. There was also an elaborate plan to facilitate cross-financing and sharing of people and other kinds of resources. It would be like five district governments in one state. Unfortunately, due to politics and other things, the final decision was to go with three bodies.”

The former MP blamed the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi for the alleged destruction of resource-sharing and lack of long-term commitment to the MCD on part of the state.

“He treated the MCDs like a step-child. He should have stepped in and ensured that all three municipal organisations have adequate cash. Mrs Dikshit’s idea was based on the sensibility of sharing of resources, the government had proposed a common resource pool for all three entities. That could never happen. An idea that was good in creation was destroyed by the fact that its most positive elements never became part of the implemented idea.”

Asked about the Congress’ declined importance in Delhi’s urban local government, Sandeep said the shift in the fortunes of the party started in 2012-13, in the last years of the Congress-led UPA 2 government at the Centre.

“There was the whole anti-corruption movement, 4G, 3G, Commonwealth, Nirbhaya etc. which were issues against the UPA-led Union government, but also got reflected on the Delhi government, both being of the same party. So, we suffered a double whammy and the perception about the party came down all the way to the ground,” he said.

Sandeep also contended that when this perception was being created, the Congress — both at the Centre and in Delhi — did not do enough to publicise its work. Dikshit’s tenure as CM ended in 2013.

“We hadn’t learnt at the time that the media could be used to mould public perception. Mrs. Dikshit always used to say that she’s built Delhi till 2028. A lot of what AAP talks about now, be it healthcare, education or even environmental measures, had been instituted by the Congress long back. I would blame my generation of leaders for not successfully relaying that message to the public”, he said..

Sandeep added: “My own understanding is that Congress has to go into this election with a unique, positive agenda. There are two-three very critical issues like corruption over construction and the fact that the MCD has not been able to perform even small duties like keeping areas clean, keeping encroachments away and not allowing unnecessary traffic jams. I think our agenda should provide a very clear alternative to these issues.”

Taking on the double-engine bid by both the BJP and the AAP (centre-MCD vs state-MCD) he said that there’s “only so much politics” that the MCD can do against the Delhi government.

“Delhi government can hold back funds, Delhi government can hold back permissions, Delhi government is the big brother. The problem with Kejriwal is that he plays politics on everything. In this case, he will play politics again if BJP wins the MCD elections, but it makes no difference. You have to give them money from the MCD funds. You ultimately have to give them the permissions that they want. If government and MCD work together, obviously things happen faster. But to say that they will only work if the party is in power both in government and in MCD is simply blackmail,” said Sandeep.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


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