Why Delhi is abuzz over Sharmistha Mukherjee's meeting with Arvind Kejriwal
It is well-known that the Aam Admi Party's rise had a devastating impact on the Congress party's fortunes in Delhi. Did the change in power equations in the Capital cause so much unrest among the Congress' rank and file that workers and leaders are contemplating joining AAP?
That's the question the Congress has been left grappling with, after a recent meeting between AAP Chief Arvind Kejriwal and senior Congress leader Sharmistha Mukherjee, daughter of President Pranab Mukherjee.
A media report claimed that Mukherjee recently visited Kejriwal and met him and his family. The report also claimed that Mukherjee later confirmed that the meeting had indeed taken place, but denied that it was an indication of her wanting to join AAP.
However, the meeting has triggered speculations to that effect. Mukherjee, a Delhi Congress spokesperson, was directly confronted on Twitter on whether she is thinking about joining AAP. She replied in the negative, calling it not just idle, but an 'evil' speculation.
Not just idle but evil speculation.I'm proud Congress by birth,spirit&deeds.Wud rather leave politics than leave INC https://t.co/SqkY9v7fNt— Sharmistha Mukherjee (@Sharmistha_GK) October 5, 2016
A weak record in Congress
In spite of being a veteran Congressman's daughter, Mukherjee is new to the party and indeed to electoral politics itself. Known earlier as a Kathak dancer and choreographer, she joined the Congress only in 2014.
In 2015, along came the Delhi Assembly Elections that were very critical of the Congress because AAP and BJP had relegated it to the third position in the previous elections that were held in 2013. Congress was reduced from being the party in power to just 8 seats in the assembly.
It was decided that Sharmistha would be fielded as a candidate from the Greater Kailash seat as well as a prominent face of the party. The articulate Mukherjee soon became the voice of the party in the Capital, taking on AAP and Kejriwal in speeches, press meets and TV panel discussions.
However, as it turned out later, these elections were an AAP-show all the way. Not only did Mukherjee lose from GK, the Congress was wiped out from the assembly. Even the BJP, which had emerged as the single largest party in the 2013 polls, was left with just 3 seats.
The President's daughter has since been left as just one among the several faces of the party in the Capital, having been appointed as one of the party's national media panellists and chief spokesperson & communication head of the Delhi unit.
If she really is considering shifting loyalties, it wouldn't be surprising because she has hardly any major role to play in the Congress so far.
However, her denial sounds emphatic and her claim of being "proud Congress, by birth, spirit and deeds" sounds convincing.
A source in AAP also confirmed to Catch that Mukherjee had indeed met Kejriwal. In fact, they have met on several occasions and share a cordial relationship, the source said.
However, the source hastened to add, that it doesn't mean that the two have talked about Mukherjee leaving Congress and joining AAP. The source too dismissed it as mere speculation.
One of the reasons behind this speculation doing the rounds could also be an inner-party rivalry in Congress. When Mukherjee had issued her statement on Twitter on the issue on 5 October, she had been actually forced to respond to a certain Ajay Pandey, who goes by the Twitter handle of @AjayPan04102831. Pandey tagged Mukherjee in a series of tweets on the said date, asking her the same question incessantly -
Pandey appears to be either a worker or a sympathiser of the Congress since almost all of his tweets are either messages congratulating the party or encouraging it in its fight against AAP in Delhi.
There are a couple of tweets even congratulating Mukherjee on earlier occasions, which makes his act of chasing her with just that one question quite mysterious.
The account itself is rather mysterious because it has no profile picture. More mysterious is the fact that one among his followers stands out because of his prominence - Delhi Congress Chief Ajay Maken.
The Pranab Mukherjee-connection
What is evident is that this speculation has risen from within the Congress ranks and reveals the unrest within the party over the possibility of Mukherjee leaving to join AAP.
If the move does happen, it will be a major embarrassment for the Congress, which is trying hard to revive its position in Delhi, beginning with the municipal polls 2017. Many feel that apart from the Congress, it would be a personal embarrassment for President Mukherjee as well.
In 2012 when AAP had not been formed and Kejriwal was running an anti-corruption agitation, he had nearly singled out Pranab Mukherjee, the then finance minister, in one of his campaigns.
Kejriwal had alleged that it was Pranab who helped Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited in making an undue benefit of Rs 8,000 crore, at the expense of the public exchequer.
The two leaders are on better terms now, largely because of the different positions they now hold. The Delhi CM is a regular invitee to Rashtrapati Bhavan's events and has often been seen in the close company of President Mukherjee.