Former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has authored a pictorial book titled Dilli Meri Dilli: Before and After 1998 (Palimpsest; Rs 3,000), showing the city’s changing landscape. While in the Capital the quiet buildings of dholpur stone and British colonnades have made way for the babel of bulbs and LEDs, the book looks beyond the Lutyen’s Zone, which has been synonymous with Delhi. It highlights other aspects such as the ‘Bhagidari’ drives and the establishment of centres of learning and law.
The book is an attempt to find a place for Delhi on the global map through infrastructure, cultural revival and heritage. Several noted professionals from the city share their thoughts on the growth of the Capital during Dikshit’s 15 years as Chief Minister till 2014.
Excerpts from an email interview with Dikshit:
What has Delhi given you as a resident and its CM?
While growing up in Delhi in the fifties, a good outing for me meant a tonga ride to the Qutab Minar or shopping in Chandni Chowk. In those days, we did not have too many choices for entertainment; being a Delhite was a big thing in itself. When young, I never had any ambition to be in public life, to be active in politics. My entry into politics was largely due to the influence of my father-in-law, Umashankar Dikshit. In 1971-72, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, I assisted him to deal with the extraordinary situation. He was the country’s health minister at that time. For me, that was a kind of initiation.
What, according to you, makes Delhi different from other world cities?
In terms of technology, the big cities of Europe and America are way ahead of us. In my 15 years as Chief Minister, I tried to bridge this gap by focusing on connectivity, infrastructure, healthcare and institution-building. Six new universities came up during my time. What Delhi has and others don’t is its ability to absorb and accommodate. It is more humane. The poor do not feel left out.
How did you choose the people in the book, who attest to the growth of Delhi under your leadership?
The idea was to put the pictorial narrative in perspective with comments from those who really know about the areas they were commenting on. For every segment, there’s one commentator. I do not personally know all of them. At times, I looked for someone, and that person was not available, so I approached someone else.
The book details how you primed infrastructure and community-action programmes. What do you think the success of a city is marked by?
The real success of a city depends on its ability to make available its facilities and resources equitably. Everybody who lives there must have access to what the city offers, be it housing, drinking water, healthcare, safety or educational opportunities. It must not be compartmentalised between the elite and the underprivileged. A city must be welcoming, and most importantly, it must have the cultural magnetism to attract the best talent from elsewhere