New Delhi: Sandeep Dikshit's willingness to call it like it has made him an outlier within the Congress, which picked his mother, 74-year-old Sheila Dikshit, as its candidate for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, before it allied with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. On Saturday, as the Congress was reduced to roadkill by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's top-gear win in Uttar Pradesh, Mr Dikshit outlined the party's infirmities. Unlike the BJP, he said, the Congress does not invest in building leaders or backing them. He contrasted this with the BJP's early support for Mr Modi, which, he said, remained intact despite the allegations that as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he did not do enough to stop the communal riots in 2002 that seared the state, a charge rejected by the Supreme Court. "We don't have a system to build and stand behind a leader. 2002-Modi-BJP is a great example. Modi was actually a liability for the BJP...but they stuck by Modi, gave him an opportunity, and see where he has gone," he said.
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Mr Dikshit, 52, spoke to NDTV as it became clear that the Congress' defeat in Uttar Pradesh - despite an alliance with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav - boldfaces what the party insists on denying - that it is in the midst of its worst crisis in decades. Under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, who led the campaign against the PM in 2014, the Congress has racked up a series of huge losses. "Would you step down now if you were Rahul Gandhi?" NDTV's Prannoy Roy asked Mr Dikshit. Substantial pause, then - "I'm not Rahul Gandhi."
Mr Dikshit prefaced his comments with the acknowledgement that they are likely to irk the Congress, which brooks no argument of the quality of its Gandhi leadership. When asked if Mr Gandhi is a mass leader (all evidence suggests otherwise), he held his silence, for a bit, leaned forward, and then said, "Can we use this election to read that? I don't know. I think I'll still reserve (my) judgement."
Like other Congress leaders including Abhishek Manu Singhvi who appeared on NDTV today, Mr Dikshit said that it would be unfair to blame the party's debacle in India's prize state entirely on Mr Gandhi. He said the party's culture has become one of "First, let's capture the Congress, (then) Congress will capture the votes," arguing that there is too much internal competition for party positions and that party managers have become more prominent and powerful than leaders with potential as vote-getters (he refused to say who this category includes within this Congress). He also said that if the Congress chooses- as it often has- to conjure a silver lining today, it will have missed the point. "We'll be in trouble if we read this with satisfaction that we are re-nominated as the main opposition party, we will be in trouble" he said.
He also called out the party for its ducking of transparent discussions, saying it's essential for "systems within (an) organization to help leaders improve or build themselves."