Sheila Dikshit
Sheila Dikshit Image Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Sheila Dikshit, an Indian politician who was New Delhi’s longest-serving chief minister, died after a prolonged illness. She was 81. Dikshit died Saturday at a hospital in New Delhi, where she had been admitted for treatment for a heart ailment.

A veteran leader of the opposition Congress party, Dikshit served as chief minister of the capital for three consecutive terms, from 1998 to 2013. In a tweet on Saturday, the Congress party called her a “lifelong congresswoman” who “transformed the face of Delhi.”

Aunty Number 1

Delhiites had dubbed her Aunty No.1 Sheila Dikshit 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.”

Early life

Born in Kapurthala, Punjab on March 31, 1938, to Swarnlata and Srikrishna Kapoor, an army officer, Dikshit was educated at Convent of Jesus and Mary and Miranda House, New Delhi. She did her Masters in History from Delhi University in 1959. For a year Dikshit worked as a teacher in Nathaniel Nursery School, New Delhi. In 1961, she married into the family of veteran freedom fighter and Congress leader Uma Shankar Dikshit. Her husband, Vinod Dikshit, an Indian Administrative Officer, died in 1987.

Political rise

Her association with politics started in 1969 when the Congress party split. Her foray into electoral politics came in 1984 when she won the Lok Sabha seat from Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh. She was inducted into then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet in 1986 and appointed the federal minister of state for Parliamentary Affairs. After winning the prestigious Gole Market seat in 1998 and 2003, Dikshit was elevated to the post of chief minister of Delhi. She subsequently won the assembly elections in 2008, making it a hat-trick and stunning her own party, as she had defied anti-incumbency and emerged the winner. She was defeated in New Delhi constituency by Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal in 2013 polls. She served as the Governor of Kerala in 2014 but resigned after five months. She was appointed Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and contested the polls from the Delhi North East seat against Bharatiya Janata Party’s Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari. But lost.

People’s person

The woman with a grandmotherly smile understood the pulse of the people. Dealing with the nitty-gritty of things that make a difference, she was able to balance her acts. Dikshit was considered one of the best-dressed politicians, who looked impeccable in her silk and cotton sarees. Her track record in dealing with Capital’s chronic problems had gained her admirers. From cleaning up Delhi’s air and switching over to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to being perceived as a force behind the Delhi Metro, she did the city proud.

Good governance

She generally ignored the politics of mud slinging and focused on development. Coupled with good governance, she ruled efficiently, despite not just having to face the Opposition but also detractors within her party.

A major milestone in the career

Her grandmotherly smile and humility helped Dikshit to sail through the rough and tumble of ways the city readied and showcased itself in the nick of time for the Commonwealth Games 2010. Because of her good sense of humour, one could ask her whether Delhiites would have to do kar seva (voluntary service) to save face. She had laughed heartily saying, “Together, we shall manage.” One could sense that Dikshit had her fingers crossed before the Games. Asked if she would be taking a vacation after the Games, she cheekily remarked, “Yes, I certainly will. I will go into a cave!” She received thunderous applause at the opening ceremony of the CWG. “I felt a sense of relief and joy when the Games got off to a rocking start and ended with the same panache,” she said feeling elated.

Relationship with Sonia Gandhi

Dikshit shared a strong rapport with the Gandhi family, especially Sonia Gandhi, who helped her become president of the faction-ridden Delhi Congress in 1998. Dikshit referred to Gandhi as her ‘lucky charm’.