Assembly polls 2015: Can Ajay Maken save Congress’ sinking ship in Delhi?

Ajay Maken, a former union minister, has been handed the baton to lead the Congress' fight in Delhi Assembly Elections 2015. Maken, also the face of Congress' campaign committee, will seek to regain the party’s lost ground in the national capital.

50-year-old Maken, who was elected to the Delhi Assembly for three consecutive terms since 1993, had also won the Lok Sabha polls in 2004. But, he lost to BJP's Meenakshi Lekhi in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and is now back in Delhi – he is fighting the Assembly polls from the Sadar Bazar constituency.

By handing over the reins to Maken, Congress has sounded the arrival of a new leadership in the national capital after its shameful rout in the 2013 Assembly polls, when even three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit faced defeat.

Going by its long-held tradition, the Congress has restrained itself from formally announcing Maken as its chief ministerial candidate, but the arch light is clearly on him and the polls an acid test of his abilities. The Delhi veteran, who has been tasked with resurrecting the party in the national capital, will have to beat the odds to emerge victorious over Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal.

Congress, an underdog in the current polls, is hoping that Maken turns out to be a credible face and is able to make it a triangular contest in Delhi.

However, with BJP still riding high on ‘Modi wave’ and the recent spate of electoral wins, Maken won't have it easy in the capital where party won three successive times beginning 1998.

For Maken, becoming the face of Congress in Delhi polls was not easy. He had to face internal dissent over his elevation with Delhi Congress chief Arvinder Singh Lovely withdrawing from the poll contest.

Now, keeping in mind that he has very limited time, Maken needs to silence his opponents by quickly devising an effective campaign strategy. Besides stepping up the campaign, he also needs to ensure a micro-level approach down to the polling booth to woo voters.

While in the 2013 Assembly elections, Congress could win only eight of the 70 seats – a loss of 41 seats from 2008, the 2014 Lok Sabha polls proved to be worst ever for the party in Delhi. It drew zero with all seats going to BJP's kitty.

Maken has a mammoth task ahead of him – not just to revive the Congress in Delhi but also in the process, to re-establish the supremacy of the grand old party. Whether he will be able to change the course for Congress in Delhi amid the surge of BJP and AAP will be interesting to watch.

In case the party again fails to make its presence felt in Delhi, the tag of ‘Congress loyalist’ will surely act as a saviour for Maken. After all, how can one forget the press conference where Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi dramatically made an entry and criticised a government ordinance that Maken was defending. The ordinance negated a Supreme Court ruling that convicted lawmakers cannot continue in office. Moreover, Congress at this juncture cannot ignore Maken who has a clean image and is party’s young and credible face.

Beginning his political journey as president of the Delhi University Student's Union in 1985, Maken became the youngest member of the Delhi Assembly in 1993 at the age of 29. In 2001, he was transport, power and tourism minister in the Sheila Dikshit cabinet. His stint with the Sheila government was also impeccable, which is why he was promoted as a national leader. In 2003, Maken was elected as the youngest speaker of an Indian state Assembly at the age of 39.

He first became MP in 2004, and was re-elected to Lok Sabha in 2009. He has been in the Union Council of Ministers thrice. As a Union minister, Maken held important portfolios like Minister of Housing and Poverty Alleviation, Independent charge of Youth Affairs and Sports, and MoS Home Affairs.

But it remains to be seen whether Maken's political background, clean image and Delhi connection can save Congress’ sinking ship, and whether he will be able to turn the Delhi polls into a triangular contest between the BJP, AAP and Congress? The grand old party, meanwhile, is largely banking on this Delhi veteran who can be trusted to deliver results.

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