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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

Sheila Dikshit: The affable politician who gave Delhi its modern look

Sheila Dikshit, in her autobiography, had said that politics as an engagement with ideas and people can be inspiring, but it can be reduced to banality as she experienced in the last one or two years of her third term.

india Updated: Jul 20, 2019 22:43 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
New Delhi
As the longest serving woman chief minister who steered her party to victory for three consecutive terms in 1998, 2003 and 2008, Dikshit ushered in an era of all-round development that transformed Delhi into a world class capital.
As the longest serving woman chief minister who steered her party to victory for three consecutive terms in 1998, 2003 and 2008, Dikshit ushered in an era of all-round development that transformed Delhi into a world class capital.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
         

Warm and affable, Sheila Dikshit was one of the tallest leaders of the Congress who had the distinction of being Delhi’s longest serving chief minister and giving the national capital Delhi its modern look.

Considered close to the Gandhi family, she was handpicked by Rajiv Gandhi to be part of his council of ministers after he became the prime minister in 1984. She represented the Kannauj Lok Sabha seat from 1985 to 1989. For her, politics was not only about jousting for power but also about bonding with people and getting re-energised in the process.

She had said in her autobiography that politics as an engagement with ideas and people can be inspiring, but it can be reduced to banality as she experienced in the last one or two years of her third term.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said she held the distinction of being the only woman chief minister in India who has led her party to three consecutive victories in assembly elections. Born in Kapurthala in Punjab to a non-political family in 1938, Dikshit did her schooling from Convent of Jesus and Mary School in the capital and graduated from Miranda House, University of Delhi.

She got married in July 1962 to bureaucrat Vinod Dikshit, whose father Uma Shankar Dikshit was a loyalist of Jawaharlal Nehru and served as a minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet in 1971 and later became Governor of Karnataka and West Bengal.

As the longest serving woman chief minister who steered her party to victory for three consecutive terms in 1998, 2003 and 2008, Dikshit ushered in an era of all-round development that transformed Delhi into a world class capital.

She also initiated green reforms in public transport sector successfully accomplishing the shift from polluting vehicles to a CNG based fleet. Known for a string of development works throughout her 15-year stint as Delhi chief minister, Dikshit fastened the flagship Delhi Metro project, oversaw the creation of a network of flyovers in a city stressed with high population density and heavy traffic. She also led the phasing out of the killer blue line buses, that had claimed several lives on the roads.

Besides initiating good governance and development in making Delhi rise to world-class standards, she introduced participative governance (concept of ‘bhagidaari’) during her chief ministership, involving people including resident welfare association and civic society in the decision-making process.

Known as a kind person, people close to her said she used to mingle with commoners and visit slum clusters frequently and her personal touch in politics helped her emerge as the undisputed leader for quite some time.

Interestingly, even her detractors praised her for her leadership when she was chief minister. All political parties also shared good ties with her.

In the midst of hectic political activity, she would often take out time for seeing a movie. Being a movie buff from her early days, she had 20 viewings of Shah Rukh Khan starrer “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaenge”.

She was also quite fond of Western music since her youth and would sit near the radio waiting for her favourite songs to be aired. Apart from these, reading was also a big passion so was collecting footwear. Dikshit’s super political run in Delhi ended in 2013 at the hands of AAP founder Arvind Kejriwal who defeated her in assembly polls. Kejriwal, the product of the anti- corruption movement led by Anna Hazare succeeded Dikshit as Delhi chief minister.

She sailed through many storms in her long political innings and sought to steer the faction-ridden party out of oblivion after she was made the Delhi Congress chief ahead of assembly polls in 1998.

She was again made the Delhi Congress chief just ahead of Lok Sabha election to take the party out of wilderness, but she herself lost the North East seat in Delhi to BJP’s Manoj Tiwari and the party drew a drubbing.

She took her first steps in politics by assisting her father-in-law and was noticed by Indira Gandhi, who nominated her first as a member of the Indian delegation to the UN Commission on status of women.

First elected to the Lok Sabha in 1985 from Kannauj of Uttar Pradesh, she served as a Minister under Rajiv Gandhi first as the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and later as a Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s office. In 1989, she lost the elections from Kannauj. Dikshit spent years in wilderness after Rajiv Gandhi’s death and returned to the mainstream only after Sonia became the party chief. She was also projected as chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh, ahead of 2017 assembly polls, but had to withdraw after the Congress tied up with the Samajwadi Party.

She also served as governor of Kerala from 2013-14 and resigned after the NDA government came to power. In her over three-decade political career, she had said that there is no substitute for conscientious effort, as there are far too many pulls and pressures, ups and downs, and ins and outs in politics.

Ultimately, it is what you make of chance and opportunity with a measure of grace and dignity, she had once said.

First Published: Jul 20, 2019 22:42 IST

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