ET EDIT-Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s Modernising Leader


Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s Modernising Leader
Sheila Dikshit served as Delhi’s chief minister for three terms. That was both her achievement and her undoing. A third consecutive term that ended with the possibility of her still being in the forefront for claiming a fourth term as chief minister, should the Congress win the Delhi assembly polls in 2013, drove ambitious younger leaders within the party into inner-party rivalry and possible sabotage. Her father-in-law, Uma Shankar Dikshit, had been a senior Congress leader in Uttar Pradesh. Her son, Sandeep Dikshit, represented East Delhi in the Lok Sabha. But she struck very few people as a dynast: the warmth of her conduct and the persona of an amiable elderly aunt that she cultivated made sure of that.

Sheila Dikshit was ever-ready to shed a tear and wipe it carefully with a dainty hanky or the pallu of her saree (Dikshit née Kapoor was rarely seen in the Punjabi salwar kameez) in the cause of the Gandhi family. This came across as genuine rather than as sycophancy. She was equally willing to empathise with the average Delhiite, too, during the 1998-2013 stint as Delhi’s chief minister. Her Bhagidari scheme, involving Resident Welfare Associations in participatory governance, was an effective innovation for a city-state like Delhi. While her predecessor Madanlal Khurana it was who had initiated the Delhi Metro project, it was Dikshit who oversaw its growth and spread, granting its boss E Sreedharan a degree of autonomy that few politicians permit in undertakings they preside over.

Dikshit enforced tough decisions: banishing polluting industry from Delhi, converting all public transport vehicles to run on natural gas, privatisation of power distribution and completion of Delhi’s preparations for the Commonwealth Games. She made enemies, but won more hearts.

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