Sheila Dikshit was India's biggest urban leader, says Milind Deora
Former Mumbai MP from Congress Milind Deora speaks of his party senior and how her ideas of urban development helped shape his
I first met Sheila Dikshit ji almost 25 years ago, when she had come to Mumbai. This was even before she was the Chief Minister of Delhi. As she was a good friend of my father, Murli Deora, she had come over to our home for a meal. I was a young student in the US, and had come down for holidays at the time. While we met only briefly, she came across as a kind and warm person. She was very unlike the typical politician; she was engaging in conversations with me, asking what I was studying and what I aspire to do. She was obviously extremely knowledgeable, well-read and well-spoken, which was quite refreshing.
In 2004, when I got elected as the Member of Parliament (MP), her son Sandeep became a good friend. She was already the Chief Minister of Delhi at the time and we would meet often. She would host us at her home, and was always taking care of everyone. "Beta kuch khao, you have to eat more," she would go on like this, making me feel like I was with my grandmother, but in Delhi. Interestingly, this is also how she was with her constituents; as a family member.
She was one of the few politicians I met when I was in the Parliament (from 2004 to 2014), who knew urban politics well. Around that time, every politician I met—whether from Congress or BJP—would have a rural-centric bias. While that is not a bad thing, I am personally biased to the urban as I come from a metropolitan city. Sheila ji and I would, thus, often talk about what we need to do in terms of urban governance.
When she [Sheila] was the Chief Minister of Delhi, she started a scheme called Bhagidari. As part of this programme, she brought in resident associations and engaged with them. This was a unique initiative for its time in India. It was a classic example of decentralising governance and increasing civil participation. She is actually one of the pioneers of implementing this in India.
She always had tremendous affinity towards urban issues, ranging from transportation to housing. I remember once she came to Mumbai to study urban housing, including the slum rehabilitation authority plan. After this, we flew to Delhi together, and she seemed very excited. She wanted to replicate the plan in Delhi. We talked about the pros and cons, too. She always understood the aspirations of urban India; she articulated urban politics and addressed it well. During her three terms in Delhi, she changed the face of the state. She was not just the Congress party's urban face, but maybe India's biggest urban leader.
I had the opportunity to learn from her and share insights with her. She was always open to ideas. In terms of transforming urban India, she gave a tough competition to governance in other cities. I respect her politics—which was constructive. Whatever she did was with a vision for the people of Delhi. I feel her biggest achievement is serving as the Chief Minister for 15 years. It is not an easy task. There was stiff competition from many parties, but she remained popular and was loved by several.
I hadn't met her in the past couple of years. The last time I met her was two years ago, at her home. We talked about what was happening in the Congress and what needed to be done to improve things. And I agreed with her completely. My ideas were similar to hers. This is encouraging for me, because when you get into politics, your ideas are untested. But when someone so senior to you shares the same vision, it makes you feel that you are doing the right thing.
She was old and her work was getting less active, but she served the party till the last day, nonetheless. She even fought the Lok Sabha elections a few months ago at the age of 81. Sheilaji was a great individual and even greater source of inspiration to me.
As told to Prutha Bhosle
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