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Dikshit lone hand for high stakes

New Delhi, Dec. 3: If Sheila Dikshit wins a fourth successive term to script Congress history, it can propel her into a higher orbit and even boost her prime ministerial prospects in case Rahul Gandhi remains reluctant.

This may be the reason a section of the Congress isn’t excited about a possible victory in Delhi and hasn’t contributed at all to electioneering for Wednesday’s elections.

Winning Delhi would pack special significance not just because it is the national capital but because slaying a 15-year-strong anti-incumbency demon in an urban hub would be seen as a pointer to Narendra Modi’s limitations.

But the Congress left the chief minister to fend for herself in the face of robust campaigning by the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party.

The All India Congress Committee and the Delhi unit were almost absent from the campaign. Even strong candidates received no financial assistance.

With Manmohan Singh almost certain not to continue and some senior leaders suggesting “the UPA II baggage be thrown away”, a fourth term for Dikshit would bolster her aura of invincibility.

The rapport she enjoys with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul anyway makes her a first among equals. A victory at a time the party’s popularity is at a low and people from all classes are angry at the savage rise in vegetable prices can well place her in line for the top job in the country.

Dikshit, however, is up against a cry for “change”. The mood in the street and the buzz in political circles indicate that the Aam Aadmi Party’s entry has muddied the scene, transforming the traditional poll dynamics in many constituencies. Political pundits say the polls could be close.

What has surprised many is the Congress central leadership’s failure to make even a feeble attempt to confront the Aam Aadmi Party campaign and Modi’s blitz.

The Congress’s media outreach was poor; its senior leaders avoided election talk and stayed aloof; and its spokespersons got bogged down with the Gujarat snooping row.

Election fervour evaded the party’s national headquarters, unlike the past when spokespersons regularly rebutted the Opposition campaign and briefed the media on the government’s achievements.

The party’s communications department is headed by Ajay Maken, a Lok Sabha MP from Delhi and a known Dikshit baiter. Few among the other general secretaries, senior leaders and central ministers would be comfortable with Dikshit’s rise, either.

Shakeel Ahmed, party general secretary in charge of Delhi affairs, denied that Dikshit had been left to fight alone and accused the media of ignoring the Congress chief ministers and seniors who campaigned in Delhi.

Yet Sonia addressed just one public meeting in the capital while the Prime Minister cancelled his sole scheduled rally, apparently because of his engagement with the visiting Japanese emperor.

Rahul, initially scheduled to address four meetings, dropped the plan after his second rally was seen as a flop.

When the campaign peaked and BJP heavyweights such as Modi, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and L.K. Advani swarmed into Delhi, Dikshit held fort alone from the Congress side, addressing six to eight meetings a day.

The chief minister, however, has herself been accused of “running her own show” and relying only on her “entrenched MLAs” and chosen bureaucrats.

Indeed, the Congress has around 20 candidates who are almost assured of victory, but crossing the halfway mark of 35 in the 70-member Assembly is going to be a struggle.

“We are confident. The BJP had nothing to offer and the Aam Aadmi Party is just media hype,” Dikshit told The Telegraph.

“I am shocked at how the media compromise on objectivity to project figures that are completely disconnected from the ground reality. Let’s see on counting day how the Aam Aadmi Party gets the 20-30 seats (as is being claimed).”

In most Delhi constituencies, a candidate needs over 50,000 votes to win even in a triangular contest, and the Aam Aadmi Party has few candidates who look like making the cut.

But both the BJP and the Congress admit that the new entrant has eaten into their support bases. What hurts the Delhi government most is the trust Kejriwal has evoked among the poor.

“We’ve seen everybody; let’s give a chance to the newcomer,” seems the refrain among the voters, particularly the poor and the youth.

While the poor have traditionally voted for the Congress, the youth have tended to back the BJP in recent Indian elections. But in Delhi, even those who profess admiration for Dikshit and are ready to praise her role in transforming the capital have been advocating the need for “change after 15 years”.

The Congress is relying heavily on the Muslims, who make up around 20 per cent of the voters, and has been putting out advertisements in the city’s Urdu newspapers warning of the purported dangers of Modi’s advent. The move, however, seems to carry more than a whiff of desperation.