At around 4 pm on Saturday, Congress stalwart and three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit (81) breathed her last after suffering a cardiac arrest at New Delhi’s Fortis Hospital.
In the wake of her demise, the Delhi government has declared a two-day state mourning; after all, Dikshit’s role in stitching together a powerful political force in the capital was vital. She is well-known for her creation of numerous people-friendly programmes, as well as for “changing the face of Delhi,” in terms of the city’s infrastructure, flyovers and overall connectivity.
Dikshit was handed her first defeat in more than a decade—during which she served as chief minister in the capital for three consecutive terms between 1998 and 2013—and had to concede the position to Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal in 2014.
For the next 24 hours following her death, political rivalries were temporarily kept on hold, as condolences poured in for the Congress veteran from across the country. On Sunday morning, senior BJP leader LK Advani, along with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Dikshit’s residence to pay tribute to her. From here, Dikshit was taken to the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) and the AICC headquarters, where UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh offered their last tributes.
As the bright Delhi sky took on a grey overcast, accompanied by a heavy spell of torrential rainfall by around 2 pm, Dikshit’s mortal remains were taken to Nigambodh ghat, where her last rites would be performed.
Traffic jams commenced near the Red Fort, where some news reporters could be seen giving their piece-to-cameras as the van carrying Dikshit’s mortal remains made its way further ahead down the road to Nigambodh ghat.
She would be cremated here by using a CNG machine, as opposed to burning mortal remains on a funeral pyre. The CNG machine itself was installed at the ghat during Dikshit’s tenure as CM back in 2012; it uses natural gas instead of wood, thereby emitting lesser pollutants than the funeral pyre.
At a far distance from the CNG crematorium, people struggled to get closer access so that they could pay their last respects. However, police authorities had barricaded the entry near that section of the ghat. This didn’t deter the massive crowd that had come to attend the funeral; they lined up at the barricade, completely drenched because of the pattering rainfall, loudly chanting: “Jab tak sooraj chaand rahega, Sheila ji ka naam rahega.”
Right outside the CNG crematorium was a carpeted area—now with puddles of water on it—from where Dikshit’s body was taken into the room, where her last rites would be performed. As the jawaans carried her body into the room, the chanting grew louder, overpowering the sound of the ensuing downpour.
A baba standing next to me remarked how he was disappointed. “Woh pandit hai—unhe aise nahi jalaana chahiye.” Upon informing him that it was her wish to be cremated using CNG as opposed to the traditional use of a Hindu pyre, he smiled and walked away, still looking quite unconvinced.