‘Open, frank, uncomplicated and educated’: Congress MP on Sheila Dikshit
I was shocked to hear of Sheila ji’s sudden demise. It was truly sudden both because there was no long preceding illness and also because not only had she recovered from her operation in France but she had been fully active for over two months during the recent elections.
Sheila ji achieved the remarkable combination of being a consummate politician (three-time CM, minister of state, governor and the holder of many other party posts) and yet appearing to be a complete non-politician. No doubt this also reflects the degradation of the word “politician”, which people are loath to apply to Sheila ji.
She always acted, spoke and behaved as an enlightened member of civil society and your gracious and loving aunt next door. This was because of her genuine and natural spontaneity, a grace which is not easily found in our public life and an attention to detail which underlined her ceaseless consideration for others.
The last time I had a close interaction with her was when I released the Congress manifesto for Delhi in one of the most well attended press conferences, flanked by Sheila ji, Chacko ji and all working Presidents of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee.
The previous day, she telephoned me to specially welcome me and added that she was cancelling all other programmes to ensure her presence. During the function she delegated completely with absolutely no sense of self-importance.
After the function she telephoned to express her gratitude. I told her that such grace and consideration was embarrassing, especially amid her hectic schedule but, in her smiling style, she said, “Abhishek ji, I was the host and you were my special guest and I had to take care.”
She was a fixture in almost every function I organised, even non-political ones, e.g. farewell for retiring judges. When she could not come, as a sitting CM, she would unfailingly send a bouquet and make a personal call to express regret.
Sheila ji’s USP was, first and foremost, the complete absence of pomp and pomposity; secondly, an ability to put her visitor completely at ease; thirdly, a grace and elegance eliminating the remotest element of crudity; fourthly, the maintenance of candour and a lack of hypocrisy (not at all easy for a three time CM); fifthly, her innate warmth which engulfed you the moment you interacted with her; and sixthly, her easy accessibility to those she knew and trusted.
No wonder the BBC called her, “open, frank, uncomplicated and educated…not coming across as devious, calculated or corrupt.” Apart from her well-known interest in film and music (from classical to western) what is less known is her desire to sit behind the wheel of a big car and drive at 120 kmph, “feeling that I am in an aircraft and not on the road.”
As a Miranda House girl, she admitted to her crush on Dev Anand and always regaled us with stories about the natural restrictions placed upon her in an upper caste Brahmin family into which she married. Ultimately, it was her father-in-law, Uma Shankar Dikshit, who may well be considered a revolutionary in encouraging her to take an active part in public life, which she began by handling her father-in-law’s work after the early death of her husband. Another rare USP was her wholesome delegation and the genuine functional autonomy she granted to her subordinates. Only Sheila ji could achieve so much during her successive terms as CM without constantly lamenting and complaining about the incomplete or partial powers of a Delhi CM under the Constitution.
A rare combination indeed for anyone in public life and one which Delhi will deeply miss for all times to come. A rare combination indeed for anyone in public life and one which Delhi will deeply miss for all times to come. Delhi from inception has had giant figures as CMs but if Sheila Dikshit is unanimously hailed as the best CM of Delhi amidst this galaxy of names, it is truly a humongous achievement.
(The author is MP; Jurist; National Spokesperson, Congress; Former Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee)