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Frail but still in the fight, Sheila Dikshit shows why she's the grandma of Delhi politics

Today, at 81 years, she is back as the face of her party, which hopes to script a revival story in the capital under her leadership.

, TNN|
Apr 28, 2019, 10.39 AM IST
(This story originally appeared in on Apr 28, 2019)
NEW DELHI: She sits silently in the front seat as the 154-metre pylon of the Signature Bridge looms into sight. When her white Ertiga ascends the Wazirabad flyover, she stares at the iconic city landmark that was supposed to have been completed during her three terms as chief minister starting 1998. Perhaps it is bittersweet for her to see the bridge in its glory, inaugurated in November 2018 by the man who ousted her from power in 2013.

For the moment though, Sheila Dikshit has other things to think about. The incumbent head of the Delhi unit of Congress and a Lok Sabha contestant from North East Delhi, she is banking on the achievements rather than the Signature Bridge to head off the challenge from BJP and Aam Aadmi Party in her constituency. But she cannot help pointing out, “I feel happy that we thought of this bridge. The planning and designing took place in our tenure though it was completed by the current government.” An afterthought strikes her and she muses, “But I am not altogether happy… I wish the surroundings and the bridge were maintained aesthetically.”

After December 2013, most presumed it was the end of the Dikshit era. Today, at 81 years, she is back as the face of her party, which hopes to script a revival story in the capital under her leadership in time for the big fight for the Delhi assembly in 2020. Her past is up for fresh analysis, and on the outcome rests the future of Congress.

Dikshit is candid that left to herself, she wouldn’t have contested but focused on leading the Delhi Congress. She constantly reminds that what she is doing is for “her party”. For a quick follow-up, she adds, “I like my work. I am a people’s person.”

She appears frail and no longer the sprightly woman whose political statements made headlines every day. Dikshit was never loud, but in the summer of 2019, she appears more of a mother figure, or rather a grandmother. Obliging selfie seekers, hugging and shaking hands with women in Gopalpur village near Wazirabad, she speaks about women’s empowerment rather than politics.

Her voice is much softer now, but she is not willing to concede that age makes electioneering a burden. “Do I look tired?” she challenges, before disclosing that her day starts at 7.30 am with a cup of coffee and ends after 10.30 pm. “Four times more people meet me at my house now than earlier,” she claims.

However, clearly, while Dikshit is the face of Congress, the groundwork, planning and success of the electoral outreach has been left to party workers and local leaders who know the constituencies. But she insists, “This assignment is a challenge for me and I will do my best.” She has come a long way from 1997, when she fought a Delhi election for the first time from the larger East Delhi constituency. “I grew up in Delhi, studied here, married here and my husband was posted here too. However, when I stood from East Delhi, I had no clue that there was such a huge city thriving beyond the Yamuna,” she says.

The villages, unauthorised colonies and the slums were unfamiliar territory for her. “When you go to the people, you have to speak their language,” she says with the wisdom gleaned then. “I lost that election, but a year later won the assembly polls and we returned to power three times.”

Today, she is pragmatic about victories and losses. “When you win, it’s for five years, not forever. The world of politics is uncertain,” she says, revealing also that she keeps the fears and worries about the future at bay by focusing on the present.

Her train of thoughts is broken by smiling faces peering at her from an autorickshaw. She smiles brightly in return and waves at them. There is no cavalcade, neither signs of a VIP on the move, but Dikshit’s face in the front seat evokes memories of a CM who dominated the city billboards for a decade and a half. “Well, I am Delhi’s friend,” she says happily when asked how it feels to get the attention of the masses once again.

The car speeds on Outer Ring Road and as it drives down the loop of the flyway next to the Delhi government Secretariat at ITO, she shares her sense of pride at what Delhi has become. She is, however, worried about the pollution and feels the need for a well thought-out policy to deal with the burgeoning vehicular population. In a contemplative mood now, she says, “We focused on greening but that is not quite enough.”

By the time she reaches her house, it is evening and her drawing room is filled with people — family, friends, party workers — there to help the candidate. The day hasn’t come to an end, because the next round of electioneering will stretch into the night. But Dikshit smiles brightly. Obviously, she will not let age come in the way of what she has to do.

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Sheila Dikshit loved footwear, western music!

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