Sheila Dikshit: the administrator who did not get her due
Many believe today that Sheila Dikshit was electorally drubbed without much fault on her part. She was a victim of a larger political mood.
Years back, when public outrage against the Delhi gang rape and murder shook the national capital, only one politician decided to visit Jantar Mantar, the protest site.
This was Sheila Dikshit, the then Chief Minister of Delhi.
She drove to the spot in the evening, only to be heckled loudly. Yet, she lit a candle to pay her homage to the victim and drove off to loud jeers.
She had no role in the lapses that led to the gruesome rape and murder. Delhi Police was also not under her as Chief Minister but under the Centre, an anomaly born of the lack of full statehood to Delhi.
No other politician – not Sonia Gandhi, not LK Advani, not Narendra Modi – visited the protest spot at a time when anger was spilling on to the streets.
Dikshit did her bit and left.
But the writing on the wall was clear. Dikshit – a three-term Delhi CM whose work of infrastructure development stood out among Chief Ministers – was sliding in popularity.
One reason was that her party, the Congress, was sliding. Another was that she had faced much bad press over lapses in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games. Yet another was the burst of people’s anger against the “system” at the time of the Anna Hazare movement as also the Delhi gang rape protests.
The anger against the Congress in the national capital – and the hope that a messiah would dramatically descend from somewhere and fix things – hit Dikshit electorally.
She lost to Arvind Kejriwal, who as an outsider to the system was rising with the promise of being committed to cleanse it, in the assembly elections. That was the beginning of the end of Dikshit’s illustrious electoral career.
The reasons for the defeat weren’t clear. Her administrative skills were never in doubt and Kejriwal was a rank outsider. However, much like Donald Trump in the US, Kejriwal benefitted from inexperience rather than paying a price for it.
The logic: when experienced hands were not being able to transform governance, a rank outsider would magically do so. What mattered in the eyes of many was his intent, not his ability. And intent too was judged in a hurry, without knowing the person in any detail.
Populism is ranged against an “elite”, and the rescuer from this “oppressive elite” is seen to be most authentic when he is a rank outsider.
The populist sentiment that hit the national capital in 2013 and later washed away Sheila Dikshit’s political career.
Not that her successor Kejriwal has done nothing as CM: his record is good so far as lifting public school education and public health is concerned.
Dikshit, too, however, set up the Ambedkar University, a state university with quotas for Delhi students. The university has recruited a competent faculty and is doing well.
Many believe today that Dikshit was electorally drubbed without much fault on her part. She was a victim of a larger political mood. Delhi wronged her and in doing so wronged itself.
After she lost power, she was asked in a press conference why she could not see the rise of AAP and Kejriwal. With a deadpan expression, Dikshit said: “Bewakoof hain na (I am a fool).”
As she is consigned to flames on Sunday, Dikshit’s abrupt political fall does show that “development” is at best a slogan, interpreted at will by different sets of people.
Her skill as an administrator is being acknowledged again when it is too late. After her death, that is.