Millennium Post

End of a phenomenon!

Around the same time in December five years ago, the high iron gates of 3 Motilal Nehru Place were flung open to the boisterous and cheering crowd which came in hordes to wish Congress leader Sheila Dikshit winning third term as national Capital’s chief minister. What a pity, on Sunday last for the first time in the past 15 years I saw the gates of the CM House firmly shut to people.

Politics, howsoever we may deride, is the most demanding and cruel profession. The doors were shut to keep away the newspersons preying around to scavenge on what many saw a fallen political icon. How untrue! Sheila Dikshit despite her defeat in just concluded assembly polls shall remain tallest of the chief ministers to have ruled any of the state in India. While releasing my book on Delhi’s political history in 2010, she had a query bordering on naiveté, ‘What does Capital Phenomenon mean?’ I explained that it’s the coming together of two words – Capital, which stands not just for Delhi but also means major, huge and Phenomenon, stands loosely for a trend. Since the book covered the period she ruled over Delhi, some also concluded Dikshit to be the Capital Phenomenon. I saw no reason to dispute it. Soon after becoming chief minister, Dikshit coined the famous slogan to go with every government advertisement – Meri Delhi Meri Shaan. Delhi greatly benefitted from Sheila Dikshit as chief minister. It was a reciprocal relationship as it’s equally true that the way city kept faith in her abilities for three continuous terms also added to her political stature. The results which came out last Sunday will take some time to fully enumerate whether city has been a loser or not but Dikshit certainly stands if nothing else politically demoralised.

Once Dikshit wrote in preface of a book, ‘What is the magic of Delhi? It keeps changing all the time, the hues change with seasons, the dress changes, the colours change, the foliage changes, the flowers change, an ever changing city.’ There was something magical in Dikshit’s politics which made people in the national Capital give her a mandate for three consecutive terms. It indeed was as magical as Delhi could get.

During the 2003 polls, her principal adversary Madanlal Khurana of the Bharatiya Janata Party had said that Dikshit could be no match for him as she could not identify the lanes and streets of the national Capital. The fact that Dikshit proved too much for him and other leaders for his generation is now part of history.

Ominous signs of change betrayed on the day of the election when Dikshit was heard saying on a news channel, ‘Who is Kejriwal – a man who lives in Ghaziabad and is trying to clean Delhi with a broom.’ On the day of the result, Kejriwal did not need to show his identity. He became the face of the change, the way Sheila Dikshit had come to identify change in 1998.

During the 2008 polls, BJP had pitted veteran Vijay Kumar Malhotra as chief ministerial candidate. Malhotra launched a website, unveiled by party’s then prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani.  When asked if she too proposed a website, Dikshit had said, ‘I am old world. I still believe in connecting directly with the people.’ The 2013 results leave a question, why people did not connect with her this time around.

If somebody has managed to remain in power for 15 years it’s indeed to the credit of the person to have retained people’s faith for so long. However, one should have not have forgotten that Sheila Dikshit government first came to power in the national Capital in 1998 riding on the upward spiral in the prices of vegetables. The circle came full round in 2013. Dikshit’s road shows and full-throttled campaign during the 1998 polls veered around onions. In 2013, the wayside hoardings across the city carried lighted message from the opposition BJP of tomato being sold at Rs 80 and onions at Rs 100 per kilogram. Dikshit tried countering it going on radio and saying that she made best efforts to subsidize price of vegetables. But her best efforts did not prove to be enough.

Dikshit ploughed a lone furrow all through for the Congress party. Rahul Gandhi addressed a dismal rally and Sonia Gandhi put up an average show. It was evident that there was not much ‘popular’ support for the party. There could not be when Congress leaders like Kapil Sibal justify telecom scam calling it zero loss to government. There cannot be popular support for the party whose helmsman Rahul Gandhi mocks his own government. This is not to suggest that no blame should appropriate to Sheila Dikshit government. It failed to keep its promise to the unauthorised colonies of regularising them. Despite its claims of Delhi having cheapest rate of power supply, its bills continues to give huge shock to consumers. People felt frustrated and angry as private power distribution companies like BSES remained unaccountable. There were similar complaints in plenty against Delhi Jal Board. It’s said that nothing succeeds like success. Dikshit this time around has been defeated. She is known to fight political crisis with determination and never ever show that she is worried. She could take on the high and mighty of her party and outside it because she had the support of people to demonstrate and fall back upon. The people have deserted here for now. If her party leadership still trusts, she I am sure would agree for another battle but then it’s the high command which has to find her to be battle worthy.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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