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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

Sheila Dikshit: The People’s Chief Minister

Sheila Dikshit ruled Delhi for 15 years, from 1998 to 2013.

delhi Updated: Jul 21, 2019 00:48 IST
Ajay Maken
Ajay Maken
New Delhi
Sheila Dikshit passed away in Delhi on Saturday.
Sheila Dikshit passed away in Delhi on Saturday.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
         

It was February 2003, and as soon as I entered her house, Sheila Ji, with a childish joy in her voice and ever-shining twinkle in her eyes said, “Beta, maloom hai, aaj to Rashtrapati Kalam Sahab ne Bijli ke masle par hamari tareef Parliament mei kari hai” (son, do you know, President Kalam praised us in Parliament today when he spoke on the power sector). In his Presidential address to Parliament, Dr Kalam had said: “The good news is that power sector reforms are slowly, but surely, showing positive results. …….. Privatisation of power distribution in Delhi has already led to improved supply.”

Coming from a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre, it was a great achievement. But this was her hallmark. Even the then Union power minister Suresh Prabhu had good words to say about the Delhi government.

We faced an onerous task of following the Supreme Court’s orders of converting the entire fleet of buses and three wheelers in Delhi into vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The CNG was to be made available by the Union government. We could have easily passed the buck to the Union government. But this was not the style of Sheila Dikshit. She grabbed the opportunity. I remember, as her power and transport minister, numerous meetings with Ram Naik, the then petroleum minister, after which we accomplished a feat no one had believed we could earlier.

No wonder that, in 2003, Delhi won the US Department of Energy’s first Clean Cities International Partner of the Year award for its “bold efforts to curb air pollution and support alternative fuel initiatives”.

The best thing about her was that she never had an ego. I remember, in December 2002, just two or three days before the official inauguration of the Delhi Metro, the Union Government appointed the BJP state unit president and former chief minister Madan Lal Khurana as chairman of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. The reason and timing were obvious. As transport minister, I suggested that she protest. She didn’t agree. Rather, she called Khurana Ji and welcomed him. She felt that her opposition would only delay the project and as a Union territory, we always would have to depend on the Union government. For her, nothing was more important than the development of Delhi.

Her passing is something that’s hard to believe. The feeling is yet to sink in that Delhi’s former chief minister and one of the most loveable, warm and courteous souls is no more. Sheila Dikshit was a mother figure to me and for many other leaders and cadre of the Congress party. She was an iconic figure for Delhi who had made an enormous impact on the hearts and minds of the people of the National Capital through her 15-year tenure as the chief minister. Delhi will never forget her contribution. I will always thankfully remember the way she groomed me as a young politician.

Her fighting spirit could be gauged from the fact that even the age of 81, when she was called by the Congress to lead the party in Delhi, she did not hesitate once and even went on to contest the Lok Sabha polls.

Personally, it is a huge loss for me, the people of Delhi and the Congress party at large. She will forever remain in the hearts and minds of the people as a “People’s Chief Minister.’’

First Published: Jul 21, 2019 00:31 IST

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