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'Grandmom' Sheila Dikshit triumphs over jaded veterans

For Dikshit, who defied anti-incumbency sentiments that ousted her party in three other states, it was a lonely celebration.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2003 14:56 IST
Deepshikha Ghosh (Indo-Asian News Service)
Deepshikha Ghosh (Indo-Asian News Service)

Sheila Dikshit won a second term as Delhi Chief Minister, carrying the weight of the lone victory her Congress party could claim in four heartland states.

For Dikshit, 65, the urbane and amiable grandmother who defied the anti-incumbency sentiments that set her party back in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it was a lonely celebration but a big win nevertheless.

Touted as an outsider by her rivals both within the party and in the BJP, the silver-haired housewife-turned-politician proved that she was here to stay.

"I must say I had some doubts earlier whether we could do so well, but now I am relieved and happy," she told reporters as garlands, flowers and sweets poured in at her New Delhi residence.

When Dikshit assumed charge as Delhi's second woman chief minister in 1998, there were more doubts than optimism that she could turn her party's good fortunes in the Delhi assembly elections to more than a flash in the pan.

Her calling card was little more than being party president Sonia Gandhi's close friend.

But she proved critics wrong by leading the Congress against a weighty rival, BJP veteran Madan Lal Khurana who has prided himself as the "live wire" of the city politics.

It was evident that she emerged the better "man" for the job.

Analysts attribute her victory to the "visible development" in the national capital of 15 million people that seems to have endeared Dikshit's urbane style of governance to Delhi's largely middle-class voters.

Apart from the Delhi metro rail, Dikshit takes credit for making the city cleaner and greener due to the Supreme Court's directive to introduce a green fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG), for public transport vehicles.

She has also presided over an unprecedented number of flyovers sprouting at the same time in various parts of Delhi, promising to ease traffic.

Born on March 31, 1938, in Kapurthala, Punjab, the convent educated Dikshit is the eldest of three sisters.

With a masters degree in history from Delhi University, Dikshit married college sweetheart Vinod Dikshit, a civil servant son of former cabinet minister and former governor Uma Shankar Dikshit.

Her political initiation was as an aide to her father-in-law.

She made the plunge under then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. She was a federal minister between 1986 and 1989, first in charge of parliamentary affairs and later, a minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office.

Always seen sporting crisp handloom saris and a benign smile, she likes to call her family truly secular - her daughter is married to a Muslim and her son to a Jain. She has a granddaughter from each.

One of her granddaughters, here to celebrate Dikshit's victory, expects a big gift from her grandmother.

"It has to be a substantial gift from her grandmother, not merely a poll victory for her!" she chuckles.

After campaigning heartily over the last few days, the avid movie lover relaxed by watching a show of "Kal Ho Na Ho", the latest romantic blockbuster to come out of Bollywood.

"I hope I can spend more time with my family," said Dikshit after winning.

Perhaps a well-deserved vacation is in order before she gets down to her second term, a tremendous achievement in a state that is notorious for rejecting the incumbent.

First Published: Dec 04, 2003 16:36 IST