Farewell, Sheila Dikshit
Delhi will remember her with fondness and gratitudeUpdated: Jul 21, 2019 18:23 IST
Sheila Dikshit, who served as the chief minister (CM) of Delhi for an uninterrupted 15 years, passed away on Saturday. A towering figure in the Congress, Dikshit’s political socialisation happened at home. Her father-in-law, Uma Shankar Dikshit, was a close associate of Indira Gandhi, and had served in her Cabinet. And so when Dikshit chose to enter politics, she had the advantage of access to the party’s top leadership. When Rajiv Gandhi won a historic mandate in 1984, Dikshit -- elected to the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh‘s Kannauj -- served as his minister of state for parliamentary affairs, which helped her build links across party lines.
But Dikshit really came in to her own when she took over as Delhi’s CM in 1998. It was a challenging context. Externally, the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power at the Centre. And given Delhi’s unique constitutional status, its autonomy was constrained and the local government was dependent on harmonious ties with the Centre. Internally, the old stalwarts of the Delhi Congress saw her as an outsider, and Dikshit had to face factional challenges for much of her stint. And on the governance front, Delhi was more of an overgrown village than a cohesive city. Dikshit’s astute political and administrative skills, warm and affable personal style, and a larger vision, helped her deal with this situation. She prioritised infrastructure, reflected in the construction of new flyovers. She played her part in pushing the construction of the Delhi metro. Under court orders, she oversaw the transition of public transport to CNG -- Delhi would have been even more polluted otherwise. Power privatisation happened under her regime, and while this had its share of critics, it did help the city overcome acute shortages. She encouraged participatory governance through the flagship Bhagidaari initiative. And but for her last-minute micromanagement, Delhi would have struggled to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Dikshit’s tenure saw allegations of corruption (especially during the Games). The December 16 rape incident symbolised the increasing perils women faced in the city. And the Arvind Kejriwal-led movement capitalised on the increasing disillusionment against both the central and city governments. Dikshit lost in 2013. Her final few years were difficult. The Congress first proposed her as the CM-face in the UP elections of 2017, only to withdraw it after it entered an alliance. She was given charge of Delhi only months before the recent elections; she opposed any tie-up with the Aam Aadmi Party; and she lost her own election. Her health too had begun fading. But there is little doubt that Dikshit transformed Delhi, and would rank as one of best performing chief ministers of the country ever. The city and its citizens will always remember her with fondness, and gratitude.