India’s national capital witnessed after considerable time people braving rain lined up on July 20 to pay homage to a dead who they felt had touched their lives.
And politicians, still smarting under the toxic political discourse in the elections concluded weeks ago, momentarily sank their differences and joined in solidarity to bid farewell. Not surprising, because she had cordial ties with everyone and in whatever she did, believed I carrying everyone along.
If she carried the crowds along, she could be intensely warm to an individual. “Typical man,” she chided me while hosting me to lunch when I said no to fruits that came last.
Though not closely, one had known her over a long period. But she never faltered in asking of my welfare. That is what anyone who had known her would vouch for.
To become Delhi’s Chief Minister, she defeated another formidable, though much younger, woman, Sushma Swaraj. The latter had been roped in for just a few weeks before the elections. Of the many factors that contributed to the anti-incumbency of the Bharatiya Janata Party government was the spiraling of onion prices during festival season.
Today, with Dikshit gone and Swaraj ‘retired’ from the government, the era of women politicians with traditional Indian persona, who were gentle, but could be ferocious if needed, is over in Delhi. It’s men’s world now.
Interviewing Dikshit when she took over in 1998, she reflected the pensiveness and determination of a person with a mission. She credited the victory to the party cadres. She attributed efforts at lowering Delhi’s rising pollution to the Supreme Court directives. There was none of that ‘I’ or even ‘we’ to the agenda she had set herself for Delhi.
This later led to an unprecedented consecutive three-term government in Delhi. She introduced “bhagidari’ system to involve local residents in managing their housing complex.
Dikshit was born in Kapurthala in Punjab and was educated in Delhi. Despite her representing Kannauj in Utttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha, she fended off the ‘outsider’ tag in Delhi.
She is rightly credited with transforming New Delhi’s infrastructure by improving public transport in the city and introducing buses powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) to combat pollution.
Daughter-in-law of Congress stalwart Uma Shankar Dikshit and married to Vinod Dikshit, an IAS officer, she was engaged in social work.
She joined the Congress Party in 1984, successfully contested the Lok Sabha election and was a junior minister in the government of Rajiv Gandhi.
She was also a member of the Indian delegation for the United Nations Commission on the status of women from 1984 to 1989, just as she began her career in professional politics.
Her last few years as Delhi chief minister were marked with corruption scandals, especially for irregularities during the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
She held out and among the wise decisions taken during those adverse times, one was to retain the services of E. Sreedharan, chief of Delhi Metro.
She took boos at the inauguration of the Games in her stride. “I am a bit of a rock star, you see,” she laughingly told a foreign guest seated next to her.
She was chief minister of Delhi during the anti-corruption movement started by Anna Hazare in 2011 and was widely criticized for her government’s handling of the protests. She was also in power during the 2012 Delhi gang rape case. Thousands of protesters gathered at India Gate and clashed with law enforcement officials. This was when the Congress Party and the government it headed at the national level were on the decline.
She lost in assembly elections held in December 2013 to the Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal. It was a sad denouement to a bright and sustained career.
Recalled at ripe age of 80 to lead Delhi Congress this year, she led from the front. Despite failing health, she contested, but lost to her BJP counterpart, actor-politician Manoj Tiwari.
Delhites had dubbed her “Aunty No.1”. She maintained: “It is a relationship of mutual admiration and love with people of Delhi. Together, we have seen difficult times. Aspirations were fulfilled much later than we expected them to, so people did lose patience at times. But my commitment to the city has remained the same.”
Little wonder, as The Times of India reported a day after she passed away: “With moist eyes, Delhi bids adieu to Sheila Dikshit.”