WILL SHEILA¬†Dikshit lose her job as Delhi chief minister as a result of the Commonwealth Games scandal and the damaging report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)? Few are willing to bet on it. When spoken to, even a senior BJP leader in Parliament refused to speculate. ‚ÄúIt depends on the pressure we build up,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚Äúand on how the situation evolves.‚ÄĚ It was hardly gung-ho, ‚Äėgo for the jugular‚Äô stuff.
The Congress insists it is right behind Dikshit. As Satyavrat Chaturvedi, senior party functionary, puts it: ‚ÄúThe party is firmly backing her. There have been CAG reports against Narendra Modi and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. If CAG reports were a parameter then the BJP should have been without a government in this country. It is ridiculous to suggest Sheila Dikshit should resign on moral grounds. She has not even been accused of corruption.‚ÄĚ
In the Delhi Congress establishment, the Dikshit camp is very vocal. ‚ÄúThe real Sheila,‚ÄĚ says one official close to the chief minister, ‚Äúis not the one the BJP is attacking, but the politician who was cheered and compared to a rock star at the opening ceremony of the Games.‚ÄĚ
There was a context to that applause. In the days before the Commonwealth Games, when a filthy Athletes‚Äô Village, complete with unusable toilets, shamed India, it was Dikshit who took charge. Along with the then cabinet secretary, KM Chandrashekhar, she was at the Village day after day, virtually supervising cleaning operations. It was a high-risk strategy because there was still no guarantee the Games would go off smoothly.
‚ÄúWhy are you making yourself the face of the mess?‚ÄĚ an Opposition MP had then asked her. ‚ÄúThis is not really a problem of your making. Why are you embracing it at the 11th hour?‚ÄĚ It was well-meaning advice. Dikshit is believed to have shrugged her shoulders, and said, ‚ÄúWell someone has to do it.‚ÄĚ
Yet that was almost a year ago. Today, it is increasingly apparent the Commonwealth Games swindle wasn‚Äôt just the fault of the Organising Committee (OC) led by Suresh Kalmadi (see box). The Delhi government and the Urban Development Ministry, then headed by S Jaipal Reddy, have a lot to answer for. So does the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Tejendra Khanna. Finally, the inability or unwillingness of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take remedial steps despite ample warnings defies logic.
Given this, and given the surly middleclass mood against corruption, the Congress realises it may just have to sacrifice a bigger name than Kalmadi. Will this be Dikshit? The decision is unlikely to be taken until Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, comes back after surgery abroad. That may not happen for two weeks. Till then, the pressure will be on Dikshit, whatever her bravado. On its part, the Opposition senses a small opening.
SO DO¬†Dikshit‚Äôs rivals in the Delhi Congress, particularly JP Agarwala and Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken, who may see himself as her likely successor. It is telling that Raj Kumar Chauhan, Minister for Urban Development, Government of Delhi, defends his boss ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúSheila Dikshit has done a tremendous job in organising the Commonwealth Games. And had it not been for her, India would not have seen the Games at all‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ but is careful to temper his optimism: ‚ÄúI cannot say about the whole party, but the Delhi cabinet is firmly behind Sheila Dikshit.‚ÄĚ
For the Congress president, it would be a tough choice. Dikshit is no ordinary chief minister. She has had a magical run for 13 years, ever since she was sworn in to head the Congress‚Äô first-ever government in Delhi in 1998. It had been challenging, leading the Congress into a tough election. Dikshit had got the battle commander‚Äôs role only because Ambika Soni apparently turned it down. Nevertheless, she capitalised on her luck with hard work and determination.
As chief minister, she has presided over a Delhi that has evolved demographically and in terms of aspirations. Adroitly exploiting a network of neighbourhood Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), she punctured the BJP‚Äôs traditional base among Punjabis. Other than being an early example of a successful civil society-political party partnership, this also spoke for a changing Delhi.
Dikshit is one of the last survivors of Rajiv‚Äôs Camelot, a constellation of impressive talent
It could be argued E Sreedharan built the Metro, the Union government financed much of the capital‚Äôs infrastructure augmentation and the Supreme Court forced the CNG fuel change. However it was Dikshit who took home the votes.
She was also fortunate in having the confidence of Sonia Gandhi. Again, there is a history here. Dikshit is one of the last survivors of Rajiv Gandhi‚Äôs Camelot, his Prime Minister‚Äôs Office (PMO), which was a constellation of fairly impressive talent. Most of the civil servants of that era have retired; some have died. Mani Shankar Aiyar is an MP but at the margins of the Congress. Pulok Chatterjee has grown and is now returning to the PMO as principal secretary. As for Dikshit, minister of state in Rajiv‚Äôs PMO, she has become a formidable politician, one often thought of as a possible alternative to Manmohan Singh, should he step down as prime minister.
Khanna and Reddy could feel the heat
THE CAG¬†report has not quite clarified how Suresh Kalmadi got the job of chair of the Commonwealth Games OC. If anything, it has only added to the confusion, which began on 29 June, the day the prime minister invited a group of editors for a now-famous meeting.
The transcript of that conversation, as published on the website of the PMO, quoted Manmohan Singh as saying, ‚ÄúKalmadi was there because he was the president of the Indian Olympic Association. The agreement to host the CWG was signed in 2003 when the previous government was in power.‚ÄĚ
The implication was that Kalmadi‚Äôs appointment was a fait accompli that the UPA government inherited. As the monsoon session began, Sports Minister Ajay Maken said pretty much the same thing in Parliament. He quoted from the Host City Agreement (HCA) cleared by the NDA government in September 2003 that gave the IOA the right to ‚Äúestablish the Organising Committee (OC)‚ÄĚ.
However, the bid document of May 2003 had conceded the OC chairman‚Äôs post to a government nominee. That aside, the HCA committed all stakeholders, including the IOA, the OC and the Delhi and Union governments, to abiding by the provisions of the bid document.
As such, as Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, put it, ‚ÄúThe IOA‚Äôs right to establish the OC was not unfettered. The chairman was always due to be a government nominee.‚ÄĚ
Now the CAG report has added a twist to the tale. While the bid document of May 2003 put the words ‚Äėgovernment nominee‚Äô against ‚ÄėOC chairman‚Äô, the updated bid document of December 2003 deleted this reference. The CAG report says this ‚Äúupdated bid‚ÄĚ had ‚Äúno legal sanctity or relevance‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúsurfaced only in September 2004‚ÄĚ. In essence, it was an interpolation and a fraud.
So how come nobody noticed? As the CAG report itself says, the then sports minister, Sunil Dutt, protested. Subsequent sports ministers Mani Shankar Aiyar and MS Gill also took it up, but the PMO was unmoved. Indeed, it seemed a bit unjust that Gill was removed as sports minister after the Games. He had delivered more than many of his colleagues.