Decline in Delhi’s political leadership

Anil Anand
It might have been tiny in size, both in pre and post Independence eras, but Delhi has always maintained its political significance. The significance, unlike Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, was not on the basis of sheer numbers of Lok Sabha seats but because it has all along been the CENTRE of political power. The political movements might have been built elsewhere but Delhi being the centre-point helped spread the same to the rest of the country like a stone hitting middle of a pond ticking the concentric circles.
The towering leaders of various political parties or those who stirred political movements were all from other parts of the country but Delhi had its fair share of leading lights who helped in making the capital city a strong base for the waves to spread elsewhere. It is another matter that some of these leading lights, though in the subsequent years, made Delhi as their political base. Topping this list are veteran BJP leaders L K Advani, late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress leaders such as Arjun Singh. The cine-stars turned politicians Rajesh Khanna (Congress) and Shatrughan Sinha (BJP) also cut their teeth in politics in Delhi itself.
Delhi has since ages undergone churning of all sorts. The last churn led to democratic rule after centuries of monarchy/ autocracy and the British rule. In terms of Delhi’s local political scenario this lap of the churning had well begun as it gave the capital city, now called the centre of National Capital Region, leaders of iconic stature and mass-base. The darkest part of this churn is the sharp decline in the stature of the political leadership over the years.
Congress and the BJP and earlier its erstwhile ‘avtar’ Jan Sangh, used to be in direct contest till the advent of a new political experiment in the form of Aam Aadmi Party with a new breed of leadership. Other reasons apart, it has been due to the total decline and failure of both the Congress and BJP to produce more local leaders of stature that Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP decimated both the parties in a short span of time.
Comparisons are dangerous but are sometimes necessitated even for the purposes analysing a particularly situation or subject. The comparison has become necessary if one has to analyse the decline of both the national parties in Delhi. Once upon a time erstwhile Jan Sangh and its current form BJP could boast of having leaders such as Advani, Kedarnath Sahni, V K Malhotra, M L Khurana and many others building the party from scratch to ultimately capturing power in Metropolitan Council, which was changed to Assembly in 1991, MCD and later Khurana becoming second chief minister of Delhi in 1993 when the capital city got back Assembly after over four decades.
There was a galaxy of leaders in the Congress ranks as well led by Chaudhary Brahm Prakash, a mass leader with a grip on Delhi’s politics. He became the first chief minister after Delhi Legislative Assembly was first constituted on March 7, 1952 under the Government of Part C States Act, 1951. He had the company of political heavyweights such as Radha Raman, Jag Parvesh Chandra and later came H K L Bhagat, known as Delhi strongman, Chaudhary Prem Singh and Lalit Maken who was also labour leader of great stature.
There is no denying the fact that there is a serious leadership crisis in both Congress and BJP so far as Delhi is concerned. The crisis is more severe in BJP than Congress with national leadership of the party playing a spoil sport and AAP making matter worst for them.
It was in 1957 that Advani shifted his base to Delhi from Rajasthan to assist Vajpayee and in turn start his own political innings. His first entry into Delhi politics was through managing municipal affairs as he was asked to look after the Delhi unit of Jana Sangh as it general secretary. It was due to his efforts that his party entered into an alliance with CPI to run the affairs of Delhi Municipal Corporation.
For him this was a useful initiation in the art of political leadership and strategy-making. He says “I can confidently say that this is where I had my initial grounding in alliance politics, something that held me in good stead on many occasions in subsequent years and decades.”
Later Advani became chairman of the Metropolitan Council after Jan Sangh won three elections to the Council, Municipal Corporation and Lok Sabha. He did not contest the Council polls but was subsequently nominated to it and became the chairman. At the same time Sahni, V K Malhotra and Khurana also emerged as eminent leaders and helped groom next generations of BJP leaders.
Today’s BJP is not even a poor shade of what it used to be in yore. The decimation has been more due to high-handedness of the national leadership particularly during the last four years, than anything else. The electoral defeat even in the midst of strong Narendra Modi wave, was a reflection of the politics of insecurity played by Modi-Amit Shah duo resulting into all established and old leaders like Malhotra, Dr Harshvardhan and Vijay Goel were either ignored or shifted to Centre with no say in Delhi affairs. A rank outsider Manoj Tiwari, who became MP from Delhi due to Modi wave, subsequently became Delhi BJP chief thereby causing further damage to the party.
The Congress had mass leaders such as Bhagat and Chaudhary Prem Singh and charismatic personalities Jag Parvesh Chandra to guide the party’s destiny. Unfortunately the career of promising Lalit Maken was cut short as he was killed by Sikh militants. Sheila Dikshit, after she shifted political base from UP, did gave a new lease of life to Congress and remained chief minister for two terms. Among the later set of leaders Lalit Maken’s nephew and current Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken did show promise and has a proven track record though he is facing many contradictions within the Congress and lately confronted by health issues.
Delhi politics is currently standing at cross-roads with traditional rivals Congress and BJP finding themselves on the margins. The AAP’s new brand of leadership is also proving unequal to the task (to provide political leadership). So the uncertainty prevails.