The manner of her stewardship of Delhi as Chief Minister for 15 long years (1998-2013) had made Sheila Dikshit, who passed away suddenly in New Delhi on Saturday at the age of 81, a household name in the country.
When Ms Dikshit became CM, she was a middle-rung Congress politician who had been a minister of state in the government of the late Rajiv Gandhi. By the time she left office after a stunning defeat, she had become a prominent national figure for imparting modernity to the nation’s capital. It was to this that Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred when he visited her residence to pay tribute after her death.
Ms Dikshit built the Delhi Metro, which became a virtual blueprint for underground suburban rail transport in other major cities in India. She built dozens of flyovers and new schools and hospitals. It was in her time in office that the “Bhagidari” system came about, letting residential welfare associations play a part in determining civic amenities. Some greening of Delhi also occurred during her tenure when CNG replaced diesel in the city's bus service.
The highly successful Commonwealth Games — holding which let Delhi acquire huge infrastructural assets — were held when Ms Dikshit was CM, although the Games were wracked by corruption scandals.
While the Chief Minister herself was never personally seen as corrupt, sports bureaucrats and unscrupulous contractors allegedly had a field day since, in India, preparations for even major events get pushed to the last minute, permitting a sense of emergency to build up which is exploited by shady elements.
In a rapidly urbanising India, “doer” politicians who are efficient, adept and charming — as Ms Dikshit was — are badly needed....