New Delhi, July 14 (IANS) The Congress on Thursday declared former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial candidate in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and also put in place a campaign committee and coordination committee to accelerate its election effort in the electorally crucial state.
Dikshit, 78, was Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 long years before being ousted from power in December 2013. The announcement of her name came two days after Congress appointed actor-turned-politician Raj Babbar as its chief in Uttar Pradesh.
There had been several media reports that Dikshit will be the party’s face in Uttar Pradesh.
“For the first time your assumption has proved right,” Congress General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi told the media at the party headquarters here.
Party leaders have been indicating that party chief Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra would play a larger role in campaigning in the state.
Both BJP and Aam Aadmi party said Dikshit’s appointment was a signal that Congress has accepted defeat in Uttar Pradesh.
Diskhit is the daughter-in-law of former union minister and Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh Uma Shankar Dikshit. She is from the Brahmin community, which had been supporters of the Congress, but is seen to have shifted its loyalty.
Minutes after her name was announced, an elated Dikshit expressed confidence of Congress winning the assembly election, likely to be held early next year.
“Every election poses a challenge. Every challenge is different. There is big challenge in Uttar Pradesh as it is a big state. But we will go with courage and from a belief that we will return with victory,” she said.
Dikshit said Priyanka is a very popular leader. “My plea would be that she campaign across the state.”
The announcement came even as Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau issued fresh summons to Dikshit on Thursday for questioning in an alleged Rs 400-crore water tanker scam, pertaining to her rule as Delhi chief minister.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was also present at the press conference at the party headquarters, defended her and said she had been given the responsibility for her “experience and good work.”
“Even Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan are facing charges of corruption. And we have demanded their resignation. And if they resign then we too will take back the face of our chief ministerial candidate,” he said answering queries.
Azad lashed out at the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “It is mere allegation. The two governments are trying to be revengeful. We have been victims of malicious campaign in Delhi to undermine our work,” he said.
Azad, however, declined to comment when asked how Dikshit fits in the vision of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to promote young leadership in the party.
Asked about Congress having a tradition of not projecting a chief ministerial candidate, Azad said “there have been exceptions.”
He also said the party will soon come into campaigning mode.
The party announced Sanjay Sinh, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, as chief of its campaign committee. Sinh is a member of former royal family of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. The committee has five other members.
Party leader Pramod Tiwari will head the coordination committee, which includes senior leaders Mohsina Kidwai and Salman Khurshid.
Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Jitin Prasada, Shriprakash Jaiswal, P.L. Punia, Pradeep Jain Aditya, Pradeep Mathur and Nirmal Khatri are other members of the panel.
Criticising the Congress choice, BJP leader Shrikant Sharma said there had been talk of Congress bringing Priyanka Gandhi Vadra but it had made “a retired leader” its face.
“This has been done to save Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka from blame of defeat,” he said.
AAP leader Dilip Pandey said: “A tainted former Chief Minister, who is facing serious allegations of corruption and inquiry against whom is going on, is being made the party’s face in Uttar Pradesh. This shows that like Punjab the Congress has accepted its defeat in Uttar Pradesh even before going to the polls. “
The Congress could win only two seats in the last Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh and has been out of power for over two decades. The party has sought to balance caste equations in its appointments. Party sources said that election strategist Prashant Kishor had pitched for greater role for Dikshit in campaigning.
The BJP is the only major contender for power in the state which does not have a chief ministerial candidate so far.