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Vijaya Pushkarna
Vijaya Pushkarna


Back to the battlefront

sheila-dikshit-up UP Congress President Raj Babbar with party's CM candidate Sheila Dikshit, senior party leaders Sanjay Singh and Rita Bahuguna Joshi at a road show in Lucknow | PTI

Can Sheila Dikshit save the face of Congress in UP?

Homecoming. That's the way political leaders describe the re-entry of disgruntled members who have returned after quitting in a huff. But for veteran Congress leader and three times chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, it will be a positive, warm and true homecoming in Uttar Pradesh, as she campaigns in the state for her party candidates ahead of the assembly elections due early next year.

The woman of grit began her political journey in Uttar Pradesh, where she represented the Kannauj parliamentary constituency from 1984-89, and was a junior minister . While her presence in the capital as a minister was OK for the Delhi Pradesh Congress, many called her an outsider when the party brought her to take on Sushma Swaraj, who was projected as the BJP's chief ministerial candidate in the assembly elections. She won, and became the chief minister. But it is not a simple case of the rest being history.

The noise over her being an outsider, from Uttar Pradesh, did not die down even though she had done her school in the capital's well known Convent of Jesus and Mary, and is even now, one of the best known alumni of the famed Miranda House.

Political circles now talk of how she weeded out those who came in her way, smartly by moving some, like Ajay Maken, to the Government of India. In fact, she did not become a Delhiite politically, for some Delhi Congress members, even during her second term as chief minister. Possibly not even in the third term.

But people of the city, where she was nicknamed Sheila aunty, loved her—they loved the trees she got planted to make India's capital the greenest in the world, they loved the widening of roads, the additional buses and of course the metro, all of which came up under her watch. While she may have had the advantage of a Congress government at the Centre for 10 of her 15 years, she has occassionally aired her grievances of not having full powers like other chief ministers. Worse for her was the fact that the local bodies, municipal corporations, were all won by the BJP!

But that did not stop her from doing her work. When Nirbhaya happened, she did what a chief minister should do, but said what a concerned aunty would –suggested girls get home on time, watch out what they are wearing, and take more care of themselves. There was anger against this, seen as it was, as skirting the issue of women's freedom to wear what they want and go when and where they want. But that notwithstanding, she was seen as a champion of women.

In fact, she was jailed by the UP police for over three weeks in 1990, when she and fellow Congress workers protested against atrocities on women.

The Congress has leaders like Rita Bahuguna and Pramod Tiwari in Uttar Pradesh, where the party has very little muscle left. Historically, the state unit had operated out of the Prime Minister's house till Rajiv Gandhi's tenure. And lately, the party has focussed on no more than Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur area. But as the BJP leaders talk development, the Congress clearly needed its best known development face to be seen and heard in UP. So, it will be homecoming for the 78-year old leader, whose work in Delhi is all too well known: possibly more than Gujarat's development.With Sheila ki jawani and her leading from the front, the party has, if nothing else, shown it is serious about UP polls.

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