Their mutual animosity was not unknown. Now, after becoming the Congress Party’s face for the Assembly polls in Delhi, former Union Minister Ajay Maken has hit out at former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.
Faced with two formidable foes in the BJP and the AAP, Mr Maken now admits that Ms Dikshit’s 15 long years as Chief Minister – once a matter of pride for the Congress – were not without major faults.
Mr. Maken said he was not in agreement with all the decisions taken by Ms. Dikshit during her three terms. “The way private power companies should have been kept in check, either by some regulatory mechanism or by someone else, was not done. These companies should have been reined in,” Mr. Maken said.
It was Ms. Dikshit who privatized distribution of power in Delhi, ending the monopoly of the state. While the decision was widely welcomed then, many problems cropped up later, chiefly over high power bills.
“Power theft was reduced from 54 per cent to 13 per cent and power discoms got a surplus revenue to the tune of Rs. 4,000-5,000 crore annually. But the benefit did not reach the consumer,” said the 50-year-old politician, who also managed the Congress Party’s communication wing before the general election.
The Aam Aadmi Party government that succeeded Ms. Dikshit in December 2013 and ruled the capital for 49 days ordered an audit of private distribution companies. The AAP government accused the companies of colluding with the previous Congress government in hiking electricity rates.
Mr. Maken, who will contest from Sadar Bazar in central Delhi, also blamed the Dikshit government for delays in giving certificates to people living in irregular colonies – once the Congress’s vote bank.
“The (Dikshit) government could have expedited the process of handing over the certificates of regularization. Naturally, people were unhappy. When I was the Union Urban Development Minster in 2007, the Cabinet had passed the order of regularizing unauthorized colonies (in Delhi). The notification was issued in February 2008. (The entire work) should have been done in one year, ideally,” he said.
In a city of about 17 million, as many as four million live in what is known as unauthorized colonies – heavily populated areas which are deprived of many civic amenities.
Asked about Ms Dikshit’s comment that the Congress might again back an AAP government in Delhi if needed, Mr. Maken retorted, “That’s not the official party line. I am the general secretary of the AICC (All Indian Congress Committee) and its chief spokesperson. The Congress line comes through me. I give the Congress line to other party spokespersons.”
Maken said he was confident that the Congress would win the February 7 Delhi election.
One reason, he felt, was the crime graph. “Hasn’t the crime rate gone up in Delhi? Haven’t rape incidents gone up?”
He questioned the Bharatiya Janata Party over its failure to fulfil its Lok Sabha election pledge to bring back black money stashed abroad by rich Indians.
“Have they fulfilled the promise of bringing back the black money?” Most BJP promises had fallen flat, he added.
Mr. Maken said the Congress would tell voters how both the BJP-led central government in the last seven months and the AAP during its 49-day stint in Delhi failed to live up to people’s expectations.
Mr. Maken faces a mighty challenge. Like elsewhere, the Congress has been on a steady decline in Delhi too.
The Congress won just eight of the 70 seats in the December 2013 assembly election. In the May 2014 Lok Sabha battle, it came third in six constituencies and in the fourth place in the seventh.