The legend of Sheila Dikshit took roughly two decades in the making. In 1986, when the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched Dikshit in his Cabinet as a junior minister in his office, many said she had got it easy. After all, her father-in-law Uma Shanker Dikshit was an Indira Gandhi loyalist, who also served as her home minister.
In 1998, when Dikshit was brought into Delhi politics, first as the city Congress chief and seven months later as the chief minister, she was promptly labelled an ‘outsider’. After all, she was born in Punjab’s Kapurthala and marriage to an IAS officer — college sweetheart Vinod Dikshit — meant she had been travelling all over the country.
<b1>A decade later, she has virtually pulled off a coup, spearheading Congress into a third successive term in Delhi. If Delhi Elections 2008 were a movie, Sheila Dikshit has been the producer, director and lead cast of this blockbuster.
“There was a time when party stalwarts spoke openly against her, even calling press conferences to put her down,” recalled a Congress old-timer. But she did not budge. “Then, the party came around to backing her. This is by no means an ordinary feat. She is the batsman who scored 300 runs,” said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.
But Dikshit has always played her cards right. Her big Lok Sabha win from Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh got Dikshit a berth in Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet. It was during this period that she also came close to AICC President Sonia Gandhi, who was yet to join politics then. Even when Dikshit joined the Congress (Tiwari) group during Narasimha Rao’s tenure as Prime Minister, her friendship with Gandhi stood strong.
Today, Dikshit reigns supreme. “The party high command gave her a free hand in selecting candidates and planning campaigns. She made sure even her weakest candidates won,” added one of her close aides.
Her upper middle class rearing and education at Convent of Jesus and Mary and Miranda House is a far cry from the breed of rasta-roko politicians. It is this professedly non-political air that has made Dikshit popular with the educated, middle-class, who see their aspirational values reflected in her.
“She didn’t let the crudeness of political life touch her,” added Pran Chopra, a veteran journalist who has known her since before she started out in politics.
This very “highbrow, upper class and sophisticated” image of Dikshit was used by her detractors to establish her disconnect with her voters. “But she proved them wrong. Delhi has the highest per capita income and also a large number of poor people. Her leadership bridged both segments,” explained Rangarajan.
But her third successive term will not be any less challenging. Her management style will be scrutinised for arrogance. How she copes with the challenges thrown up by urbanisation will be studied closely. Also, the margin between Congress and BJP has narrowed this time. This victory has indeed made the legend of Dikshit. Now, it is her turn to deliver a legacy to remember.