‘I love Delhi and that’s what has kept me going’: Sheila Dikshit
“I love Delhi and that’s what has kept me going,” was Dikshit’s final words to a small group of reporters at her residence on Thursday.
Until Friday, a day before she breathed her last, three-time former Delhi chief minister was fighting to revive the Congress party in the national capital.
“Till late Friday evening, she was holding meetings with us to assess the preparations for the upcoming assembly elections,” said JP Agarwal, former Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) chief.
Born as Sheila Kapoor in Kapurthala, Punjab, Dikshit was brought to the national capital early in her life, and it was from here that she completed her schooling, from the Convent of Jesus and Mary, and graduation, from Miranda House in Delhi University.
It was during her college days that Dikshit met her husband Vinod Dikshit who went on to become an IAS officer. Her formal initiation into politics happened through her father-in-law Uma Shankar Dikshit, veteran Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh.
She fought her first election in 1984 from Kannauj parliamentary seat in UP and went on to become a minister of state in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet, before she came to Delhi to fight the parliamentary elections from East Delhi against BJP doyen Lal Bihari Tiwari in 1998.
Although she lost that election, she was made the CM face of the party in the assembly elections the same year. What followed was 15 years of ‘changing the face Delhi’.
Often termed an “outsider” by her own party persons, Dikshit turned her lack of a political background to her advantage and kept a neutral image while leading the party to victory for two more consecutive terms.
Kiran Walia, former minister in Dikshit’s cabinet, said Dikshit was always ready to take criticism from within the party or from her political opponents, which was also the reason why she never had any enemies despite being in politics for most of her life.
“Delhi became what it is under her tenure because she never kept aside any personal time for herself. Even when we would drive from home to office or for a meeting, she would take note of a fused bulb on a streetlight or a broken central verge and get agencies to fix them,” Walia said.
Despite being known for the development work that Dikshit initiated under her regime, her political downslide began during her last term as chief minister, with the Commonwealth Games of 2010, which sort of became the albatross around her neck.
In the 2011 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the Dikshit-led government was indicted of lapses and irregularities. She also faced criticism for her comments after the December 16 gang-rape — she had blamed migrants for crimes in the capital.
Sanjay Kumar, director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), said the initial term of Dikshit’s was the “golden period” of Delhi but it was a general tendency with politicians to make mistakes, especially when they had spent a long time in power.
“For instance, during the Commonwealth Games, she took some bold decisions as one is expected to while managing big events. She started delegating responsibilities, but the problem began when she started losing control,” Kumar said.
While speaking to Hindustan Times on Thursday, two days before her death, Dikshit recalled the CWG Games and how she almost foresaw the end of the Congress regime in Delhi after that.
“I tried my best to do everything I could to make the CWG a success, so that our country head is held high. But I paid for it with my political career,” she had said.
After losing to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal in 2013 by a margin of over 25,000 votes, Dikshit went on to become the governor of Kerala for a few months before going into a political hibernation till early this year, when she was appointed as Delhi Congress chief.
Despite her failing health, she gave in to the party’s decision to field her in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, from the North East Delhi seat, an election that she lost to BJP candidate and the party’s Delhi chief, Manoj Towari. Although she was instrumental in bettering the party’s vote share, the Congress came a distant second in five of the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi.