Farewell, Sheila Dikshit— Congress warhorse, able administrator, Delhi’s last empress

Sheila Dikshit served as the chief minister of Delhi for 15 years from 1998 to 2013. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna/File)

From a reluctant politician, as she herself mentioned in her autobiography "Citizen Delhi: My Times, My Life", to becoming the longest-serving chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit will always be remembered for the infrastructural transformation she brought about in the national capital, including the Delhi Metro. The three-time chief minister breathed her last on Saturday afternoon. She was 81.

Serving as the chief minister for 15 years from 1998 to 2013, before the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ended Congress rule, the government under Dikshit s leadership piloted major decisions such as switching the Delhi Transport Corporation s fleet to CNG, privatisation of power distribution companies, building of flyovers and trifurcation of the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi among others.

Perhaps the reason behind her immense popularity in Delhi is well described in her own words. "My advantage, I assumed, was that I was not encumbered by political baggage. Unlike the other Delhi leaders, who were closely identified with one or another community such as Jats or Gujjars, or associated with the violence that had rocked Delhi in the wake of Indira Gandhi s assassination, I had a neutral persona," she wrote in her autobiography. Follow LIVE Updates here

Born in a non-political family in Punjab’s Kapurthala district on March 31, 1938, Dikshit was the eldest of three daughters. She completed her primary education at Delhi s Convent of Jesus and Mary School and graduated from Delhi University s Miranda House. Dikshit also holds a postgraduation degree in History.

Sheila Dikshit interacting with slum dwellers at Ambedkar Camp during Sanjha Prayas Safai Abhiyan. (Express photo)

Dikshit’s first brush with politics came only after her marriage to Vinod Dikshit, an IAS officer and son of former Union Minister and governor Uma Shankar Dikshit. She learnt the nitty gritties of politics while assisting her father-in-law, who besides being a veteran Uttar Pradesh Congress leader, had close ties with Indira Gandhi.

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Dikshit finally made her electoral debut in 1984 as a member of the Congress, winning from the Kannauj parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh and thus kicking off a 30-year-long career in politics.

Sonia Gandhi gave Sheila Dikshit the responsibility to head the Delhi unit of the party. (Express photo)

Besides holding the post of Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in the Rajiv Gandhi government, she was also nominated by Indira Gandhi to the Indian delegation of the United Nations Commission on status of women.

Dikshit s foray into the political arena in Delhi happened after she lost four consecutive Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh and in 1998, Sonia Gandhi gave her the responsibility to head the Delhi unit of the party. After that, there was no looking back as Dikshit went on to win three consecutive Assembly polls, changing the face of Delhi with massive infrastructural development, civic sense and a cleaner environment.

An able administrator, Dikshit could get along well with politicians from all parties for which she drew widespread respect.

Sheila Dikshit at the Centre of Hunger Free Delhi – Aap Ki Rasoi at Hanuman Mandir. (PTI)

However, power is a fickle mistress and soon a series of incidents followed that sullied her image. Allegations of corruption levelled against her government during the Commonwealth Games and the 2012 Delhi gangrape brought her under fire from activists and the media even as public discontent soared due to inflation and power crisis.

IN PICS | A look at Sheila Dikshit’s political journey

At the same time, Anna Hazare’s India against Corruption movement was gaining ground and Arvind Kejriwal was snapping at her heels by highlighting faults with the government, rising power bills and a looming water crisis.

In 2013, the unthinkable happened and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) dealt a stunning blow to the Congress government, with Kejriwal himself defeating Dikshit by a margin of 25,684 votes.

Sheila Dikshit and son Sandeep at a rally. (Express photo)

However, despite the defeat, Dikshit managed to keep herself in the limelight and her close relationship with the Gandhi family saw her becoming the Governor of Kerala in 2014 for five months. She resigned after BJP came to power in 2014 riding on a Narendra Modi wave.

She was also projected as the chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh, ahead of 2017 assembly polls, but had to withdraw after the Congress tied up with the Samajwadi Party.

Sheila Dikshit at a welfare programme in Delhi. (Express photo)

After being in oblivion for three years, Dikshit’s second coming in Delhi politics coincided with the Congress fighting for its survival in the capital. The party could not win a single seat in the 2015 Assembly elections and also failed to open its account in Delhi in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

However, her appointment as Delhi Congress chief just four months before the Lok Sabha polls failed to galvanise the party and coupled with back and forth negotiations with AAP, which never materialised, the Grand Old Party again was left to bite the dust in the 2019 general elections. She herself lost the North East seat in Delhi to BJP’s Manoj Tiwari.