It is customary to praise the person after their death but praising Sheila Dikshit is not something which is customary. Like me, most of the people who have interacted with her could have had good or bad experience with her, but during that interaction she always left an indelible impression on the other person. One could see her as a mother figure, guide, politician or even a friend.
Usually, if a journalist and a politician enjoy good relations, then it’s never good for a healthy democracy. But this cannot be said about the relationship between journalists and Sheila Dikshit, who was Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 long years.
Despite good relations with her, journalists never spared her and did postmortem of her every decision, but the beauty of all this was she took that criticism in her stride and never went after the journalist or the media organisation.
My first interaction
I had first interaction with her when she was appointed the president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee in 1998, and was contesting from East Delhi Lok Sabha seat. I had taken the appointment for an interview. I reached her house in time but there was a huge crowd around her and I could not reach near her.
When she was leaving to sit in the car, I introduced myself and her immediate reply was ‘Sorry beta, ok you come and talk to me in the car only. Is it ok with you?’ I nodded in yes and she immediately asked her private secretary Akhilesh Tripathi to adjust me in the car.
She had to attend an election rally where Delhi AICC in-charge Ghulam Nabi Azad was also coming. She was getting late, she hurriedly sat in the front seat and myself, Tripathi and one local Congress worker sat at the back seat.
I still remember my first question was, “Ma’am there is this view that you are an outsider to Delhi politics and hence not familiar with the issues of Delhi.”
She gently replied, “I have studied in this city, lived in this city and spent most of my life in Delhi. I know the issues of Delhi and if still people call me outsider, I really don’t understand why they say all this.”
The impression I got after this interview was that she is humane, down to earth and caring.
Changed the face of Delhi
She lost the election although she got more than five lakh votes which was maximum that any Congress candidate got in Delhi. After that, politics in Delhi started taking new shape. There was lot of infighting in BJP. Sahib Singh Verma, who was made Chief Minister after Madan Lal Khurana, was embroiled in a corruption case and faced the severe onion crisis.
Keeping an eye on election, BJP replaced Verma with Sushma Swaraj. The onion crisis, infighting in the BJP, a divided congress and Sheila Dikshit’s proximity to Sonia Gandhi went in Dikshit’s favour. She won the assembly elections with 52 seats and became the Chief Minister of Delhi in 1998.
She faced huge opposition from her own MLAs, but she sailed through and she did every bit to resolve all issues that Delhi was facing. Apart from resolving the issues of power, public transport, pollution she gave the facelift to the city by constructing a number of flyovers. She changed the face of Delhi.
An epitome of grace and elegance
Sheila Dikshit’s beautiful cotton sarees which she elegantly donned, the way she conducted herself in the public, the dignified manner in which she walked and the way she got the interiors of her office designed and decorated was a treat to watch. Even her bureaucrats used to copy her style.
He impeccable aesthetic sense was visible all around the city -- the way bus stops were redesigned, the roads were broadened, parks were rejigged and even the advertisements that Delhi government put up on the hoardings and issued in newspapers were all very classy.
She was also very particular about how things were kept inside her official bungalow and inside the Delhi Secretariat and would herself give instructions to the housekeeping staff.
A perfect host
She was fond of hosting lunches and parties. Her annual lunch was always the talk of the town. She would ensure that she talks to each guest for some time. In every lunch she would come to our group and would say to me ‘Beta, have you tasted that fish, it is very good, go and taste it’.
With female journalists she would talk about dresses. To elderly people, she would enquire about their health and to her MLAs and ministers she would instruct please take care of the guests. In small lunches she used to ensure that she takes little from everyone’s plate to make them feel close. I cannot say thing except that ‘she was a great host’.
A caring lady
One day in the afternoon I went to her 3, Motilal Nehru Marg residence to get some quote. When I went inside, she was sitting in a chair in lawn and all around her were old home articles plus some old newspapers. I asked her what these are and what she is doing.
Instead of answering my question she gave me an old newspaper and asked me to see the headline. It was the next day morning newspaper when Gandhi ji was assassinated. Then she told me that she was bit comfortable today and as many old things were lying so thought of putting them in sun so that they do not get ruined. During my journalistic career I never witnessed such thing and for me she was just a chief Minister but on that day, I saw her an elderly lady of the house. I was so touched that despite her too pressing schedule she can manage this also.
Her style of giving respect
I was asked to go along with marketing people and interview her for our special issue ‘Mood of the Nation’. Went to her office along with marketing team and photographer. The moment I entered her office she said, “Arrey why this formality, you have my power of attorney to write anything, you know everything about me.” Her one sentence was enough to increase my stature among my colleagues. This was her style of giving respect to others.
Very sorted person, clear thinking
There was a pressure from my club officials to arrange a meeting with Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit so that they can request her for some sponsorship. So, when we went to meet her along with our patron Chaudhary Mateen, she asked me the whole purpose. I gave all details of our football club and our problems. She asked what we expect from her. I said ‘Maám, if you could put a word to anyone for sponsoring our club we will be able to serve in a more better way and our financial issues could be addressed’. She replied “see I can say to anyone and they can help you also but if in future that person will ask me for any favour which I should not do then this support of his will haunt my mind so let us find more practical way’. My club officials agreed with her logic. She suggested some practical options. She had very clear thoughts.
Being politician, she had many differences within, and outside party and several controversies haunted her but she dealt with every situation in soft and humane way and never allowed to emotions to take over her. Born in family of an army men, Punjabi by birth, brahmin by marriage, she was a mini India in herself as her son in law was Muslim and her daughter in law is a Jain. She loved her country, her party and values of her party. Will always be remembered as great leader.