|CURRENT ISSUE DECEMBER 01, 2003|
|states ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS | SHEILA DIKSHIT|
Politics is one of the few ironies of life Sheila Dikshit, the woman who exudes quiet authority, is happy to live with. She has a vision: bring a smile on every Delhiite's face.
How would you like to have your egg? Feel at home. It's not just a politician's house. It's a home too. It is. Understatement defines everything at AB 17, Mathura Road. She settles down across the table only after you have been made to feel at home, and for the chief minister of Delhi it is a breakfast of fried egg, toast and cheese, papaya and cold coffee. On the table politics hardly exists, it's all family. Today politics makes an intrusion because it's the best time she thinks she can talk to you leisurely, and, as she starts talking politics, it is as if it is one of the few ironies of life a woman like Sheila Dikshit is happy to live with, even if it means you have to utter words like Bhagidari over cold coffee on a good Saturday morning like this. Outside on the lawn, well-wishers with flowers are waiting. It's almost 10.30 and she wants to visit a temple at Gole Market, her constituency in Delhi. The past few days have been maddening. But then candidate-selections are like that, and now it's all settled ... the battle begins, and given a chance, Dikshit would like to be there personally at every breakfast table in Delhi, as Indraprastha's favourite succour mom.
Dikshit, as a politician, defies the stereotype. Politics for her doesn't mean a negation of good taste and dignity, especially in a party whose other Delhi leaders are Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. Her quiet authority is more endearing than intimidating. Power is not a prerequisite for losing the human touch. Rather, power in her case has made her intimately human. And in a party where the Leader is still engaged in an existential struggle between Sonia and Gandhi and is still stage-managed in her mass-leader performances, Dikshit in power is at ease with herself. Give her a little crowd and she is a breeze, rustling through every anxiety. Sheila-ites, a growing tribe among the middle and upper sections of Delhi, are singing hosannas of the lady who has changed their lives. Life in Delhi is no longer the proverbial capital punishment. The lady has made it bearable. The lady is a force today, however gentle she is, exuding confidence. And a perfect counterpoint in muted colours to her opponent, a tired-and tiring-war horse who would like to claim complete copyright over Delhi. As against BJP's Madan Lal Khurana, the flamboyant rustic, Dikshit's all urbane sophistication.
What is it that makes her tick? What is the Sheila mystique that has already become a bestseller in chattering circuits? The instant reply is laughter, and, for a moment, it looks like she will be happy to be a mystique, if she can ever be. "Oh that, you should ask others." In the end, it's as enlightening as "I'm what I am".
That is very philosophical. "But that gives me a lot of satisfaction." So you have been so good that you should be given five more years? What really have you done? "I turned Delhi around," and the tone betrays, "don't you know that, yet".
"Five years ago," Dikshit says, going on a short propaganda tour, "there was a lot of cynicism in the air. Now cynicism has turned into hope: things can be done. Take the CNG (the pollution-free fuel that runs not only the Delhi buses but, to a large extent, the goodwill that Dikshit enjoys). There was a court order way back in 1997. Nobody bothered. There was no political will. Now, look, the city has changed." She can go on, as if the change has been infinite. Then the Bhagidari-which aspires to bring citizens closer to babus, it is her experiment in participatory governance and continues to be one of her main propaganda planks. "Then have you forgotten the Metro?" So for Dikshit, it's kind of a "done-it feeling".
She would have done more but for what she calls "the multiplicity of politics" that prevails in Delhi. "It stands in my way." Give Delhi full-fledged statehood, she is almost saying, she will fulfil her every promise. One thing she would really like to do is to build houses for the poor. "It is one of the basics a city like Delhi should be providing, like in Mexico and Singapore. What can I do? The land is not with me." Still, however handicapped she may be an administrator due to circumstances, she has a Vision Delhi: "I want to make each stratum of Delhi proud of its city. Never be apologetic about your city. Delhiites should have a smile on their faces, always."
Is Delhi more of an emotional attachment than a political slogan?
"Of course. It's my city." Jesus and Mary Convent. Miranda House ... What else would you require for being a Delhi girl? "Of my 65 years, 60 I spent in this city." She remembers everything. The day Mahatma died. The whole world died for her that day. "When the birds chirped again, I couldn't believe it." She remembers her father taking her on his shoulders to the funeral procession. She remembers, as a girl, running to Matka Peer (the shrine of mud pots where wishes are fulfilled, across the chief minister's residence). "And going on a tonga to the Qutub." It's-my-city lore can go on.
And she can go on like this because Sonia Gandhi is firmly behind her. Cynics may say it is all because of her that a political lightweight like Dikshit is enjoying the day, uninterrupted, that all the wily men in Delhi Congress are falling by the wayside as the gentle lady marches on. She is not defensive about the S factor. "She gave me the opportunity. She is my motivation. She is my inspiration." When it comes to the Gandhis, with whom she had a generational intimacy, Dikshit turns out to be an able panegyrist-"Mrs Gandhi was close to our dream; Rajiv was a fresh face to our aspiration ... And Sonia, I find her so straight. No deviousness. She has kept the party together." What keeps her intact on Mathura Road is such devotion.
The cold coffee is coming to an end. Impatience is mounting outside the door. Is it your world, really? Isn't politics a cultural conflict for her? "Every day you come across that. I'm matured enough to overcome it. After all, things are not going to be your way. You have to learn to adapt." She has adapted well, the dual life in Page 3 and Page 1. She refuses to be defensive: "I don't find it difficult to shift from one to another. I have a cosmopolitan background." Even politics was accidental. It was her late husband's father, a politician from Uttar Pradesh, who brought her close to politics. "I'm very close to my family." And every day she comes back to them. They are three sisters, the younger one, in her own words, " is her emotional punching bag", and the middle one looks after the constituency for her. Though, in this election, she hopes Delhiites will look after the woman who is passionate about looking after Delhi.
"I don't know what you have eaten, what you haven't." She gets up. She is late. That's okay. "It's one thing I've learnt in politics." She is lying. She has learned more. That's why she is here, as the undisputed diva of Delhi, the soft, tough survivor. The day only begins, and as usual, it will end with family and music. "All kinds of music-western classical to A.R. Rahman." Nowadays it is fm, and in the night she never switches off the music. She knows, quite a few Delhiites will go on pleading: Play it again, our dearest succour mom.