There are interesting bits of information on both Sheila Dikshit and Rahul Gandhi from a Congress insider in the book, The Chinar Leaves: A Political Memoir.
In recent days, various Congress leaders were effusive in their tribute to Sheila Dikshit on her death, and have been insisting that the Congress as a national party can be saved only by the continued leadership of Rahul Gandhi. There are interesting bits of information on both her and him from a Congress insider in his book, The Chinar Leaves: A Political Memoir. The book claimed that Sonia Gandhi had not been too keen on having her as Chief Minister after the party won the Delhi Assembly election in 1998. The author of the book is ML Fotedar, a one-time confidant of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. He fell out with Sonia Gandhi after she took over as Congress president after getting Sitaram Kesri dislodged. Incidentally, Pranab Mukherjee had played a key role in the process, having dug up a provision in the party’s constitution that allowed for the removal of a serving party chief.
He wrote, “… Sonia Ji was very reluctant to appoint Sheila Dikshit as the Chief Minister of Delhi. it took immense cajoling and persuasion on my and Arjun Singh’s part to convince her that Dikshit was the right option. I informed her that Dikshit was a Punjabi married into a Brahmin family. Her daughter has married a Muslim. As such, she represented the main religious community and was aptly suited for a metropolis like Delhi. Sonia Ji finally relented and agreed to make her the Chief Minister.” But his advocacy did not fetch him any reward, because he claimed, “Interestingly, sheila Dikshit did not support my a Rajya Sabha seat from Delhi later in 1999. This had been a double blow for Fotedar; in 1998, according to him, Sonia Gandhi had turned down his name for a Rajya Sabha seat although senior party leader Digvijaya Singh had vehemently pleaded his case with her. By his own admission in the book, Fotedar wanted a Rajya Sabha seat because that would have sorted out his residential problem in Delhi; he had no place to stay and both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had taken care of that; Sonia Gandhi had rendered him “homeless”.
In my judgement, Rahul Gandhi had not been groomed for the job and was totally reluctant to take on the responsibility
Fotedar also narrated an incident when, according to him, Sheila Dikshit (and Arjun Singh) ensured Manmohan Singh’s defeat from the South Delhi seat in the 1999 parliamentary election. He said that “many leaders like Arjun Singh and Sheila Dikshit ensured that he lost despite being the favoured one. The Congress lost all the seats in Delhi and Sonia Ji was livid.” She was so angry that “she asked her political secretaries, Ambika Soni and Ahmed Patel, to remove Dikshit post-haste” But Fotedar said he saved the day for the Chief Minister. “However, due to my intervention, Dikshit got a new lease on life.”
He was equally candid on Rahul Gandhi’s leadership and wrote, “It is was primarily Dr (Manmohan) Singh’s persona as a middle-class icon that led the UPA to victory in the 2009 parliamentary elections… The sycophants around the Congress president tried to create a perception that the increase in the number of seats for the party was on account on the active participation of Rahul Gandhi in campaigning and his appeal as a youth icon. Sonia Ji allowed this perception to gain ground, thereby denying due credit to Dr Singh. It was abundantly clear that Sonia Ji had made up her mind to foist Rahul Gandhi on the party and the country and was waiting for the right time.”
Here is a sample of Fotedar’s observations on Rahul Gandhi: “In my judgement, Rahul Gandhi had not been groomed for the job and was totally reluctant to take on the responsibility”; “There was nobody to tutor or mentor Rahul. Sonia Gandhi is not Indira Gandhi and was herself dependent on so many people for what she should do. And many of them who advised her was as ignorant as her on many issues…”; “Rahul had a certain stubbornness and his motivation to become a leader was not very strong”; “People around Sonia Gandhi secretly did not wish him to succeed because they realised that, if Rahul grew as a leader they would themselves become irrelevant”.
Fotedar then ended his book with the following observation: “It is a matter of time before Sonia Ji’s and Rahul’s leadership is challenged from within the party… because Sonia is not Indira and Rahul is Sanjay.” The book was published in 2015 and Fotedar passed away in 2017. We have to wait and see if his prediction comes true.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.