While on a campaign trail in 1998, Sheila Dikshit walked down the “lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, beating a thali with a rolling pin, to literally create a hue and cry about the impact of price rise so evident in the kitchens of ordinary Delhiites”.
From nostalgia-ridden tales of her childhood in Lutyens’ Delhi and a college-era romance that culminated in marriage in 1962, Dikshit’s autobiography, Citizen Delhi, published in 2018, also offers a glimpse into the life of a Chief Minister and strategist looking to solve problems the city and its dwellers faced as they entered a new millennium.
In a chapter titled ‘Real Politics of being a Chief Minister’, Dikshit wrote about the complexities that arise with multiple agencies running the Capital — something she learnt in her first term as CM beginning 1998: “…if I wanted to pursue power sector reforms, the approval of the Union power ministry would be essential… Although people expected me to make their lives more secure, I had no control over Delhi Police, which reported to the Union Home Ministry… moreover, every file had to go to the LG for approval.”
While Dikshit wrote in detail about her relationship with the Opposition and bureaucracy, she also delved into opposition within the party. From leaders such as Jagdish Tytler and Ram Vir Singh Bidhuri calling her “corrupt, incompetent, an outsider” in 2000 to dissent in 2005 when she offered her resignation, which was rejected by Sonia Gandhi — her 15-year tenure was full of challenges from her own partymen.
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The one scheme Dikshit wrote about page after page is “Bhagidari” — direct interaction between the government and the people, via Resident Welfare Associations: “Whether it was a campaign to say no to plastic bags or water wastage, citizens’ assistance would be invaluable in tackling or monitoring such issues at the local community level.”
The first Bhagidari meeting was held with 20 RWAs in 2000 and by 2003, at least 2,000 RWAs were on board. It was also the drop in her interactions through Bhagidari in the run-up to Commonwealth Games 2010 which, she wrote, “gave the opposition a chance to woo the vast Bhagidari constituency”.
The end of her CM-ship was marred by another controversy, CWG 2010 — from alleged irregularities to pitiable condition of the Games Village. Before the Games began, Dikshit “spent over six hours daily at the Village”. She wrote: “There were times when I hitched up my sari and picked up a broom; I could not help it.”
Before she could catch her breath, the country woke up to the December 16 gangrape. She wrote: “The Centre had not wanted the blame to fall on it directly, and I knowing well that our government would be blamed by the Opposition, decided to take it on the chin. Someone had to take the blame.”
After the end of her term, Dikshit served briefly as the Governor of Kerala. Close aide Kiran Walia said, “I went to drop her off to Kerala and when I was returning, I felt this deep sense of loss, for myself and Delhi.”
In the book, Dikshit didn’t mince her words about her absence in the 2015 Delhi poll campaign. She wrote: “Party workers called on me wondering why I was not involved… the truth was that I had not been asked.”