It’s a trite of politics that women have to appear extra tough in order to match their male counterparts. It was especially true in the 80s era when Sheila Dixit formally joined politics. The shadow of Indira Gandhi was looming large over the nation, often dubbed as ‘the only man in the parliament’, appearing tough was an obvious choice available to Sheila Dixit. But how many of us today harbor a perception that Sheila Dixit was tough?
Her voice was polite, her demeanor soft and her politics insulated from rhetoric, yet she managed to govern Delhi for 15 long years. She rejected the dominant orientation for women in politics to carve her own path. This alone is an achievement worth remembering her for. There was, of course, a favorable start of marrying into a politically active family that allowed her to reject aggression. But it was for her excellent managerial skills that she attracted the attention of Indira Gandhi.
The reflections of her administrative ability and managerial skills are more visible today than at any time during her tenure. I say so because for the changes she brought in Delhi, a good chunk of them began in her first tenure with a different government at the Centre. The metro project began in 1998, so did the conversion of public buses to CNG and the construction of a host of other flyovers. Yet, one will find it difficult to locate the news items of them being stalled due to a stalemate between the Central and the Capital government. An issue that has become the order of the day now. Sheila Dixit chose to reject confrontational politics for development. Of course, a great deal of credit also goes to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who shared her politics. But it was the cooperative governance of Sheila that made it all easier.
At times, however, she was rather too self-effacing which often came across as dismissive of public sentiment. This was true of her managing the commonwealth games, the Nirbhaya case and her gradual submission to the rise of the Aam Adami Party (AAP). Who can forget the hammering of Kejriwal promising to send her to jail for CWG and then for ‘tanker scam’? Madam chief minister’s reclusiveness to challenge him appeared to be an acceptance of guilt to the public. Another major flaw was succumbing to the Lutyen’s Durbar, which made her increasingly inaccessible to the general public. The limited interaction of Sheila Dixit with the residents of Delhi was partly responsible for the exponential rise of Kejriwal. The power rhetoric of AAP connected the arrival of Sheila Dixit to a cavalcade of VIP cars in the public mindset. The culmination of this populist detachment was the protests after the Nirbhaya incident when instead of assuaging the protesters, her government chose to show apathy and her party at the Centre chose to come down heavily on the protesters.
In spite of all her flaws, the fall from chief ministership was largely a collateral damage from Congress’s debacles at the Centre. Nevertheless, till her last days, she continued being loyal to the party by choosing to leave the slumber of governorship and actively contesting in Lok Sabha elections. Before the curtains fell, she did a valuable favor to the party by resisting an alliance with AAP with all her might. An alliance that found favor with the party chief. In the years to come, Congress might realize that she averted a cannibalistic take over of its voters by AAP in Delhi. Sheila Dixit’s departure leaves a guidance void for congress in Delhi. She will be remembered for how she transformed Delhi and resented for not standing by its people in their tough hours.
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