A little away from Lutyen’s Delhi, in a green and quiet neighbourhood, lives the former Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, who held the city’s reigns for 15 years. She still has the aura of authority—but just in the right amount, where you’re not running for cover or sweating your palms out.
In an interview with Patriot, Dikshit talks about how different her life is now from when she was in power, about how the city has become overcrowded and engulfed in an atmosphere of ‘I, me and myself’, the current Governor-CM relationship and much more.
How is your life different from the days of power?
(chuckles) There’s a lot of difference. That time I had responsibilities that were not my personal responsibilities; I was somebody who had been elected and selected by the people of Delhi. I owed so much to them and also felt that this was an opportunity given to me, therefore I must make the best use of it for the people and the development of Delhi.
But after 15 years of working really hard, now I lead a private life and am enjoying.
Do you feel restless?
Ever since I gave up my work in Delhi as the CM, I have written two books—one is a pictorial history of Delhi and the other is my autobiography that kept me busy for some time, which I just completed translating into Hindi. Now it needs to be published. These things keep me busy.
I had not been much in touch with my family earlier. But now they keep coming or I keep going (to visit.) I have a son and a daughter, and two sisters as well. I don’t travel out of Delhi now, otherwise I could have gone to Bombay where my late husband’s family lives. But they keep coming to see me. I am surrounded by very good family members and I keep myself busy with them.
I grew up in Delhi and also completed my education here, so I have many friends who I keep meeting. I’m not bored.
Do you think Delhi is still a liveable city, considering the environmental degradation and the pollution levels?
Delhi is becoming overcrowded. There’s an attraction in Delhi—people get jobs, it has a good power supply, good roads and it’s the capital of the country.
But it is becoming lesser attractive because it’s too crowded. A road journey that earlier used to take 10 minutes, today takes 20 to 25 minutes because of the traffic. Also, there are no efforts to control this traffic.
A lot needs to be taken up. These are modern challenges that we did not face three to four years back. For instance, this time Delhi witnessed such unprecedented levels of pollution that many people fell ill.
The Metro came up during your tenure, and it has grown exponentially. But even so, the traffic situation remains the same.
I must say without sounding cynical that the police has to pull up its socks. You see these three-wheelers or even the new small cars just whiz past you and overtake you when there’s hardly any space.
Cars are parked all over the roads. Even when the cars are parked on the side, it takes up one-quarter of the road. Delhi is no longer a disciplined city. It’s all about ‘I, me and myself’. We have to do something about that. The sooner we do, the better.
The amount of development that we facilitated in those 15 years was immense—the flyovers, the walkways and even the signature bridge was all conceived by us.
The Signature Bridge was also designed when we were in power. But I went to the Signature Bridge yesterday, just driving around, and I saw that it’s not even complete yet. This gives me an uncomfortable feeling.
You only dedicate something to the people when it has really become presentable. It’s not about just making something; the maintenance is even more important.
If you were still in power, how differently would you have handled the rising pollution?
We used to have meetings with the UP and Haryana government to ask them to do something about it. A lot of pollution comes from the burning of stubble. This is the reason we brought in CNG. We took steps that were relevant at that time but it may not be relevant today. Today, you have to find new ways and channels to curb this pollution.
We tried to make Delhi greener and to bring pollution under control and it is one of the greener cities—but now even that is not enough. So, more steps need to be taken. It should be planned just before the summer sets in. Currently, there’s no planning and there’s no anticipation. You have so many cars in Delhi. I remember, as a child, when we used to sit down to play, we used to write down the car numbers because there would be one every 10 or 15 minutes. It was a game.
If given a chance, do you want to contest the next assembly elections?
No, I haven’t thought of it at all.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal talks about his fraught relationship with the Governor.
Look, CM Kejriwal, or whoever it may be, should have known what the Constitution says about the Delhi set-up. You can’t blame somebody else for not being able to do something. If you have to visit them (Governor) and say that this is what we need, they would be only happy to do so because Delhi is important even for the central government. All the representatives of different countries stay in Chanakyapuri. No other city has so many foreigners staying and their impression about India should not be a negative one.
There was a time when you were the CM and the BJP was in power at the Centre, did you have such contentious relations with the then governor?
No, I didn’t. I must tell you very frankly that we brought in CNG at that time, privatised electricity and also brought in the Metro. There was cooperation—we never confronted them. We didn’t think they belonged to a different party. Without arguing, we just used to get the work done.
Even the central government has a vested interest as Delhi is the capital of the country.
Currently, what is your role in politics?
I am a member of the working committee, so I’m a part of all the discussions that take place. But I haven’t been too well for the past three or four months, which is why I haven’t been politically active.
Whenever I am asked by the local Congress party to come and attend something, I do that. I have no issues at all.
How long till a woman becomes the PM of the country again?
(chuckles) There doesn’t seem to be any woman right now. You have to have such a woman and she has to have the support.
There’s Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati…
Well if they can become, then as a woman I would welcome it. But I cannot say when that can be and how it will be; they need support too. One may wish for a woman to become the PM but a wish is not enough.
Do you think you were judged harshly because you are a woman?
I personally did not feel that but there’s always a subtle question mark on whether a woman will be able to do it. It’s assumed that a male will be able to do it, that he has the capacity and the capability.
This report was first published Patriot.