Sheila Dikshit: Disgrace?

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The pressure is high. The reports are tough. But the Delhi CM has had a good innings so far. Ashok Malik and Brijesh Pandey examine why it is difficult for the Congress to let her go

Exit wounds Given the pressure, will Dikshit put in her papers?
Exit wounds Given the pressure, will Dikshit put in her papers?
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

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. “It depends on the pressure we build up,” he said, “and on how the situation evolves.” It was hardly gung-ho, ‘go for the jugular’ stuff.

The Congress insists it is right behind Dikshit. As Satyavrat Chaturvedi, senior party functionary, puts it: “The 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.”

In the Delhi Congress establishment, the Dikshit camp is very vocal. “The real Sheila,” says one official close to the chief minister, “is 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.”

There was a context to that applause. In the days before the Commonwealth Games, when a filthy Athletes’ 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.

“Why are you making yourself the face of the mess?” an Opposition MP had then asked her. “This is not really a problem of your making. Why are you embracing it at the 11th hour?” It was well-meaning advice. Dikshit is believed to have shrugged her shoulders, and said, “Well someone has to do it.”

Yet that was almost a year ago. Today, it is increasingly apparent the Commonwealth Games swindle wasn’t 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’s 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 — “Sheila 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” — but is careful to temper his optimism: “I cannot say about the whole party, but the Delhi cabinet is firmly behind Sheila Dikshit.”

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’ first-ever government in Delhi in 1998. It had been challenging, leading the Congress into a tough election. Dikshit had got the battle commander’s 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’s 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’s Camelot, a constellation of impressive talent

It could be argued E Sreedharan built the Metro, the Union government financed much of the capital’s 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’s Camelot, his Prime Minister’s 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’s 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.

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Khanna and Reddy could feel the heat

Kalmadi alone can’t be the fall guy. The Delhi Lt Governor and the former urban development minister could also face tough questions in the CWG inquisition, says Ashok Malik

Man in the muddle Kalmadi has become the UPA’s hot potato
Man in the muddle Kalmadi has become the UPA’s hot potato
Photo:Shailendra Pandey

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, “Kalmadi 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.”

The implication was that Kalmadi’s 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 “establish the Organising Committee (OC)”.

However, the bid document of May 2003 had conceded the OC chairman’s 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, “The IOA’s right to establish the OC was not unfettered. The chairman was always due to be a government nominee.”

Now the CAG report has added a twist to the tale. While the bid document of May 2003 put the words ‘government nominee’ against ‘OC chairman’, the updated bid document of December 2003 deleted this reference. The CAG report says this “updated bid” had “no legal sanctity or relevance” and “surfaced only in September 2004”. 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.

Gill became sports minister in April 2008 and was given a deadline of two years to build 13 stadiums that were under the purview of his ministry and its agencies. The stadiums were ready at the beginning of August 2010, when the scramble for the Games Village was only just beginning.

That aside, Gill was the only one in the government who was taking on Kalmadi at a time when the OC chairman was doing as he pleased. It was Gill’s effort that brought the OC within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. His ministry issued an order to this effect. Kalmadi resisted this in the Delhi High Court, eventually losing the case in January 2010. For two years, well before the CWG scandal burst upon India, Gill battled on.

On the other hand, S Jaipal Reddy headed the Group of Ministers (GOM) that was given oversight of the CWG (he took over from Arjun Singh). Reddy chaired 34 meetings of this GOM but never had a critical word for Kalmadi. As urban development minister, he also supervised a ministry that built three stadiums and, through the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), developed the Games Village.

The CAG report says of the Games Village: “There was no evidence of compliance with the upstream flood mitigation/abatement measures on the river Yamuna stipulated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests while according conditional environmental clearance. DDA essentially attempted to abdicate responsibility for this issue.” The report alleges a Supreme Court directive that the Games Village be subjected to green monitoring by a “committee in association with RK Pachauri” was ignored.

It seemed unjust that Gill was removed as sports minister after the Games. He had delivered more than many others

“We found serious irregularities in the award of the contract for construction of the residential complex in PPP mode to Emaar MGF Constructions,” the CAG findings say, “there was a series of misrepresentations and accommodations at the RFQ and RFP stage that resulted in Emaar MGF, which was not qualified… emerging as an eligible (and successful) bidder… In response to the RFP, two bids were received from Emaar MGF… and DLF. While DLF’s conditional bid was summarily rejected without any interaction or negotiation, DDA chose to engage in a prolonged correspondence with… Emaar… Finally, only Emaar MGF was declared technically qualified, and was awarded the contract on the basis of a single financial bid.”

THE PUBLIC officials ultimately answerable for the Games Village mess are Reddy, as DDA’s then minister, and Lt Governor Tejendra Khanna, who gave crucial construction permissions. When the CAG report is scrutinised in Parliament, they can expect an inquisition.

Finally, the relationship between Kalmadi’s OC and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), headed by Jamaican business executive Mike Fennell, was decidedly curious. In July 2007, the CAG says, the OC declared it would be earning Rs 1,780 crore in revenue from the Games. “In reality,” the report goes on, “the total committed revenues amounted to just Rs 682.06 crore, and the net revenue actually realised by OC (after deducting revenue generation costs) was just Rs 173.96 crore.”

It achieved only a third of the sponsorship revenue target, with two-thirds of what it got coming from public-sector companies. “No revenue has been received on account of merchandising and licensing rights,” the report says, adding that: “The engagement of SMAM as the consultant for sponsorship and merchandising/licensing rights was flawed, as it was based on a single financial bid. It was also unduly influenced by the recommendation of the CGF CEO.”

Later, the CAG report has another damning reference: “Event Knowledge Services (EKS) was awarded five consultancy contracts relating to venue appraisal/briefs, project monitoring, games planning and workforce (awarded to an EKS consortium) during 2005-08. Three of these contracts were awarded on nomination basis, facilitated by strong patronage from the CGF (with which EKS had a close link). Tendering conditions for the other two contracts were tailored to suit EKS.”

As it happens, at least one former sports minister insists it was Fennell who told Manmohan that Kalmadi’s autonomy as OC chairman was guaranteed under India’s agreement with the CGF. Why was this claim taken at face value?

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This is an impressive CV. If one adds to it the fact that Dikshit has no real rival in the Delhi Congress — Maken doesn’t have her appeal, not yet; Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar are out of the game; Kapil Sibal is scarcely going to seek the Delhi chief ministry — it is apparent she is difficult to replace.

Watered down The call for the Delhi CM’s ouster grows louder by the day
Watered down The call for the Delhi CM’s ouster grows louder by the day
Photo: Vijay Pandey

THERE ARE no direct, blockbuster references to Dikshit in the CAG report. Even so it adds up:

• On pages 405-406, she is accused of buying potted plants worth Rs 24 crore and of spending about half the money even after the Delhi Police refused permission to place the plants on the streets, citing security reasons.

• Import of exorbitantly priced street lights, allegedly on the chief minister’s say-so, led to an “avoidable cost of Rs 31.07 crore”.

• Two vendors were nominated for road signage contracts, and there was no “healthy competition” created to save the government money.

• Of the 25 roads and bridges the Delhi government built, the CAG studied seven. It found all of them adopted a “contractor’s profit and overhead charge of 37.5 percent” as against the 15 percent norm, increasing the cost by
Rs 352.7 crore. There were also cases of quality shortfall.

• Street beautification before the Games saw the Delhi government awarding contracts for Rs 4.8 crore a kilometre. That is about what it costs to build a kilometre of a national highway.

If Chavan had to take responsibility for Aadarsh, then Sonia would need to act against Dikshit

Even if not proven corruption, there is serious and flagrant inefficiency and wastefulness in evidence here. It leads to the argument that if Ashok Chavan had to take moral responsibility for the Aadarsh case, then the Congress president would need to act against Dikshit as well. A political confidant of Maken made the point that the Dikshit magic was anyway beginning to wane. “She’s had three terms,” he said, “and cannot possibly be a chief ministerial candidate in 2013 as well. It’s time for a change. Why not get a new person now and give him two years to settle down?” In recent years, there have also been whispers about land deals related to some of Dikshit’s personal and political associates.

While the Lokayukta report in Karnataka and the CAG report on the Delhi government are very different, the Congress would also be mindful that the BJP sacked BS Yeddyurappa. “In that narrow sense,” says a BJP functionary, “it suits us if they try to brazen it out. We can say we removed Yeddy, but they insist on retaining Sheila.”

In the end, it will boil down to Sonia taking a call on whether removing Dikshit will cap the Commonwealth Games controversy or intensify it. Other than Kalmadi, so far the only politician who has paid for the Games has been MS Gill, removed as sports minister and then pushed out of the Cabinet altogether. Actually Gill had less to answer for than is realised (see box) and the hard questions remain of the prime minister and the Delhi chief minister.

The CAG has asked some of these questions. Neither Manmohan nor Dikshit is providing answers, and the only political response has been the setting up of that old UPA contrivance, a Group of Ministers. Will a more dramatic excision be called for? Till Sonia returns to Delhi, Dikshit cannot be certain.

With inputs from Sai Manish

Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]

Ashok Malik is a Contributing Editorwith Tehelka.
[email protected]

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