Stronger now than ever before | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Stronger now than ever before

As the chief minister begins her twelfth year in office, experts say her willingness to go against the populist tide — by hiking user charges, for instance — is proof of her firm hold on the reins of Delhi.

delhi Updated: Dec 18, 2009 00:11 IST
Anuradha Mukherjee

Soon after taking over as chief minister for the third time, Sheila Dikshit announced in her 2009 Budget speech her government’s intention to hike charges. Her logic: a city should be ready to pay for better facilities.

Although Delhiites were spared the bitter pill in a “thanksgiving budget” after Congress’s 7/7 win in the General Elections 2009, new charges were right around the corner and Dikshit was the least defensive about it.

She was hardly on a sticky wicket, felt Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

“Taking these decisions (hiking charges) is a reflection of her confidence. Fifteen years back, these hikes would have meant the Opposition protesting on the streets,” said Kumar.

He said Dikshit had gauged that the middle class did not mind paying a little more for better services.

Things have come a long way for Dikshit from when she took over as the chief minister for the first time in 1998.

“When she started in Delhi about 12 years back, HKL Bhagat was the king. Congress was trying to create a new leadership in Delhi. But she first had to prove herself a Delhiite. She ignored the politics and focused on development and that helped her standout,” said a Congress leader.

Bhagat decided to contest as an independent on being denied a ticket by the party. When he lost, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler and Deep Chand Bandhu were the only leaders who could counter Dikshit in Delhi.

“They had a murky image and Dikshit kept a squeaky clean image. The work she did was visible: Metro, flyovers, school results and hospitals. She could convince Sonia Gandhi that only the party politicians were against her, but the people were with her,” said Congress leader Chattar Singh.

Luckily for Dikshit, the BJP failed to pitch a leader of Madan Lal Khurana’s stature against her. “Sajjan Kumar and Tytler had the ’84 riots taint to tackle. Opponents like Subhash Chopra and Ajay Maken also faded,” said Singh.

Political infighting, however, was not Dikshit’s only worry. The court ordered the conversion of the public transportation system to CNG (1998) and the relocation of polluting industries from Delhi (2000).

“There were widespread protests, even violence. Any other politician would have avoided implementing these decisions,” said a party leader.

The 2008 Delhi elections were a tense affair with many party colleagues hoping that an electoral loss would finish Dikshit. But Dikshit managed a hat-trick — albeit by a narrow margin.

In May, the 71-year-old was again campaigning for Congress — fractured foot notwithstanding. This time she was being touted as a mascot for the party’s development plank — a far cry from the reluctant politician who stepped in to assist her father-in-law, UP politician Uma Shankar Dikshit.