The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sheila scouts for safe seat

New Delhi, June 28: The simmering factional rivalry in the state Congress is beginning to worry Sheila Dikshit, considered the party’s best bet for retaining power in Delhi after November’s Assembly elections.

Sheila may be the Congress’ brightest star, but the chief minister is wary of fighting elections from the Gole Market constituency, which falls under the New Delhi parliamentary segment. Sheila has told the party high command she would rather move to another seat.

With elections round the corner, Sheila has reportedly shortlisted some “safe” seats. These include the Yamuna Vihar seat and the Babarpur seat in East Delhi parliamentary constituency which she had once unsuccessfully contested from and the Civil Lines seat in the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency. Yamuna Vihar is held by the BJP while one of her supporters holds the Civil Lines seat.

She has reasons to be nervous about Gole Market. As Union urban development minister, Jagmohan had removed all jhuggis (slums) from the constituency and relocated them elsewhere. With this, an already small constituency has become still smaller with an overwhelming number of voters there being government servants.

“A small constituency with a homogeneous voter population suits those who like to sabotage the chances of winning candidates,” a party functionary said. During the onion crisis that helped unseat the BJP in the 1998 elections, Sheila won the Gole Market seat by a narrow margin, he added.

Even though the chief minister is the most popular face in the Delhi Congress, she is not in control of the faction-ridden state unit. Almost all senior leaders, be it Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, former state party chief Subhash Chopra or new chief Prem Singh, are her rivals.

Sheila’s equation with the Congress establishment is none too good. Recently, the party leadership said the elections would be fought under the joint leadership of Sheila and Prem Singh, with the chief ministership being settled afterwards.

Such statements can hardly help Sheila banish thoughts that she might end up losing from her own constituency due to party sabotage even as the Congress exploits her personal popularity to retain power in the state.

Sources believe it will not be easy for party chief Sonia Gandhi to allow Sheila to switch seats. “If the party’s top leader (in a state) is unsure of retaining her seat, it will certainly affect its prospects in other constituencies,” they said.

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