The passing away of a veteran Congress leader and three-time Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit – an affectionate and accessible leader – has left behind a rich legacy. India can never forget her contribution to the transformation National capital. Her demise is a great loss to the Congress party. She is a great daughter of India and had done a lot for the improvement and modernisation of Delhi.
Our country has lost a great administrator and an outstanding leader who contributed enormously to the all-round development of Delhi. She became the Chief Minister in 1998 when the Congress was in the political wilderness and the organization in utter disarray. During her 15-year tenure, Sheila Dikshit is credited for transforming Delhi, despite its complex matrix of governance, into a “world-class city”.
As CM, she changed Delhi’s landscape. While the Congress at the national level was implementing NREGA and other populist schemes, she quietly ushered in reforms like handing over the distribution of power to private players. She was India’s longest-serving woman Chief Minister, ruling for three consecutive terms in 1998, 2003, and 2008. However, her political stature and success almost destroyed the party organisation in Delhi and resulted in her suffering the most humiliating defeat in the national capital in 2013. Her ability to bridge apparent contradictions helped her become one of the most successful CMs of her time. She was popular across party lines. She treated everyone equally. She ushered in an era of all-round development that transformed Delhi into a world-class capital. In fact, she was the sculptor who changed the face of India’s capital. Her administrative skills and political maturity can be gauged by her success in managing complicated issues with the Centre. It is reported that she was the best that Delhi got when it comes to public transport. Not a single bus has been added by the Delhi government after her tenure. In fact, she was the one who introduced the cluster bus scheme.
During her tenure, Delhi’s power supply situation improved significantly after she allowed private companies to distribute power. She also initiated green reforms in the public transport sector successfully accomplishing the shift from polluting vehicles to a CNG based fleet. Even her critics acknowledge that she was a Chief Minister who delivered. She used to meet hundreds of people daily, maintaining direct connect with the voters even after she lost power.
In 2010, Dikshit’s government faced allegations for alleged irregularities in the preparations for the Commonwealth Games. Hailing from a Punjabi Khatri household settled in Delhi, she married into a Brahmin family of Uttar Pradesh, was one of the first to understand the demographic change that had taken place in Delhi, that it was no longer a Punjabi-Baniya city, but had come to belong equally to the large numbers of migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Sonia Gandhi has rightly said that “She brought grace, humanity, wisdom, and excellence to everything she did. And with what courage and loyalty she served the Congress Party, till the end.” She is also probably the only leader who was projected as chief minister candidate of two states — the Congress had presented her as the panacea for the development crisis in Uttar Pradesh in the 2017 Assembly elections before finalizing the alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
She worked with three generations of Gandhi’s, earning their trust, eventually becoming one of Sonia’s closest confidantes, particularly during Rao’s tenure as Prime Minister. She fought until the end. At age 80, she took over as the President of the Delhi Congress to fight an uphill Lok Sabha poll battle earlier this year. She was a woman of multiple interests; she could discuss films, art, music, and food with connoisseurs even while addressing political complexities with admirable calm. There is no doubt that it will be very difficult for Delhi to erase her legacy from the national capital’s collective memory as well as its everyday life.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)