Sheila Dikshit, one of the tallest leaders of the Congress who had the distinction of being Delhi’s longest-serving Chief Minister and giving the national capital Delhi its modern look, is no more. Her death has shocked politicians cutting across party lines, and tributes poured in from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. A warm and affable politician, she was a loyalist of the Gandhi family. She was handpicked by Rajiv Gandhi to be part of his Council of Ministers after he became the Prime Minister in 1984. She represented the Kannauj Lok Sabha seat then. Paying homage to Dikshit, Sonia Gandhi said the three-time Chief Minister of Delhi was a friend and like an elder sister to her. Her demise was a big loss to the Congress party, she said.
BJP patriarch L K Advani and former External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj also visited Sheila’s residence and paid tributes to her. Her body was taken to the Congress headquarters where top party leaders, including Manmohan Singh, Chief Ministers Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath, paid their respects. Later, the body was taken to the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee office, the city unit which she was heading at the time of her death. Friends and admirers fondly recalled their interactions with Sheila during her 15-year stint as the Chief Minister of the national capital. As the longest serving woman Chief Minister who steered her party to victory for three consecutive terms in 1998, 2003 and 2008, Sheila Dikshit ushered in an era of all-round development that transformed Delhi into a world-class capital.
She also initiated green reforms in public transport sector successfully accomplishing the shift from polluting vehicles to a CNG-based fleet. Born in Kapurthala in Punjab to a non-political family in 1938, Sheila did her schooling from Convent of Jesus and Mary School in the capital and graduated from Miranda House, University of Delhi. She was married in July 1962 to bureaucrat Vinod Dikshit, whose father Uma Shankar Dikshit was a loyalist of Jawaharlal Nehru and served as a minister in Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet in 1971 and later became the Governor of Karnataka and West Bengal. Known for a string of development works throughout her 15-year stint as Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dikshit fastened the flagship Delhi Metro project, oversaw the creation of a network of flyovers in a city stressed with high population density and heavy traffic, and also led the phasing out of the killer blue line buses, which had claimed several lives on the roads. For her, politics was not only about jousting for power, but also about bonding with people and getting re-energised in the process. Politicians, including women politicos, should follow in her footsteps.