Sheila Aunty Pampered Me As A Kid Even When My Son Joined College
Psephologist Yashwant Deshmukh’s personal tribute to Sheila Dikshit, who died on Saturday at the age of 81.
“What? When did that happen? Itne bade ho gaye tum ki beta bhi college ja raha hai!” Sheila aunty pulled me up for growing older the last time I met her. We had met just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She did not want to contest. However, since the party had asked her to contest from East Delhi, she did it unquestioningly.
The Congress has not seen a leader of her mould in the last two decades. She was a class apart. I’m drawing a blank at the moment, trying to grapple with the loss that is not just political but also deeply personal.
An Astute Politician With A Difference
I met Sheila Dikshit for the first time more than two decades ago. My C-Voter team had just started operations. Our data was showing that she was to lose the 1998 parliamentary elections from East Delhi constituency, and lose she did. What surprised us, though, was the fact how she took this prediction in her stride. I met her shortly after the elections and she said, “Your prediction was right. I lost!”
In my more than two decades of political surveys, I have rarely met a politician who stays cordial with a psephologist predicting a loss. Netas like you only when you show them a rosy picture. She was different.
Soon after her defeat Sheila ji asked me for the survey data to understand the reasons for her defeat. It was not an age of news channel deluge. Our findings were getting published only in newspapers those days. We used to meet often and discuss issues that the voters care for. Clearly, she cared for the voters.
During the assembly elections shortly afterward, the Congress wanted to field her from Babarpur. It was the assembly segment in the East Delhi parliamentary constituency that had favoured her. I was at her Nizamuddin house when she had to decide on her seat. Personally, I was a bit uneasy about Babarpur. Her associate, Pawan Khera, took me to meet her and when asked I shared my reasons for it. A suave, dynamic and progressive politician like her needed a cosmopolitan constituency. Babarpur could have branded her as a safe player—someone who relied on sure-shot minority vote bank.
Winning Hearts and Minds
I got to know later that she chose Gole Market as her constituency. She won that seat and how! And thus began her long innings as the chief minister of Delhi. She once shared how when she entered politics she was seen as a sister or bhabhi (sister-in-law). This relationship evolved as she matured in years and politics. She soon became a mother-figure, someone who nurtured Delhi. And as she grew older, she became the loving granny that each Dilli-wallah could relate to.
Her first tenure as the CM of Delhi coincided with the NDA government in the centre. However, she became a glowing example of India’s federalism.
Delhi never suffered because of being a Congress-run state during a BJP-run government. Sheila ji had the ability to get work done without being a rabble rouser.
Perhaps more work was done in Delhi when NDA was in power in the centre and it’s only to her credit! She knew how to build relationships across parties.
It was unfortunate that her 15-year-old stint came to an end in 2013. No, she is not to be blamed for it. I firmly believe that she paid a hefty price for the sins of the UPA government. Delhi did not vote against her, they voted against her party in the centre. The anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal took off from Delhi and the state elections offered the voters to express their desire for change. Another event that became a turning point in her career was the Nirbhaya case. She chose to take the blame instead of calling out her party’s government in the centre that controlled the Delhi Police.
Sheila Aunty Will Be Missed
The Congress is unlikely to find a loyalist of Sheila Dikshit’s stature. She believed in her party’s dignity and wisdom despite her occasional differences. She ran the state government efficiently, bore the brunt of the Centre’s inefficiencies and misdemeanours, and carried on without bitterness when one political indignation came after another. The way she conducted herself in the political circles and how she greeted the aam aadmi taught us that politics need not be like Game of Thrones. Delhi is going to miss her very deeply.
As for me, I’ll miss being pampered by her. I’ll miss all the chocolates and candies that she fed me as though I was a kid. For her, maybe I was. No wonder she was surprised that my son was old enough to be in university. Little did I know that day that those would be her last words to me.
Make heaven a better place, Sheila aunty.
(The author is the founder-director, C-Voter International. He tweets at @YRDeshmukh. This is an opinion piece. Views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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