Former Delhi Chief Minister and newly appointed President of the Delhi Congress Committee, Sheila Dikshit talks about her autobiographical book entitled ‘Sheila Dikshit- Citizen Delhi; My Times, My Life’ and politics in an exclusive interview with Pervaiz Alam for Cine Ink.
She accepts “It’s a difficult challenge as we have to fight against both AAP and BJP” in Delhi. She says filth and pollution are two big issues in Delhi and will be a priority for the next government.
She acknowledges: “Yes, after 10 years, people wanted a change in democracy. People demanded change from us after 10 years. But now the people feel the need for change just after the 5 years of BJP.”
The interview, conducted in Hindi, was recorded on Friday, 25 January, 2019, at her residence in New Delhi.
PA (Pervaiz Alam): Sheila Dikshit ji, you have served as the Chief Minister of Delhi for three consecutive terms- a longest serving period for any Chief Minister of Delhi.
I would like to talk about your book ‘Sheila Dikshit- Citizen Delhi; My Times, My Life’. In fact, I wanted to speak to you when you were in England but couldn’t due to your short trip.
The book has got a lot of reviews. Are you happy with the reviews?
SD (Sheila Dikshit): A human being can never be satisfied in life. It could have been better. There are some good and some mixed reviews. But there have been no bad reviews.
PA: I have read the book and found it very interesting. For me, the most beautiful excerpts are the ones where you talk about your youthful days at Miranda House College. Another thing that touches me is the bit where you discuss the caste-based system of that time- conservative attitude towards an inter-caste marriage. You married into a Brahmin family. What were those memories that really touched you at the time of writing this book?
SD: I was not a Brahmin but was married into a Brahmin family. So it was an inter-caste wedding. There were few problems but finally we settled down. Most of the time we stayed in Lucknow and Delhi as my late husband was in the IAS. My mother-in-law took some time to adapt me in to the family but my father-in-law easily accepted me and treated me like a daughter.
PA: Your father-in-law, Mr Uma Shankar Dikshit, was a legendary Congress leader. Your marriage was attended by Dr. Zakir Hussain, Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Later, you visited Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to seek his blessings. Didn’t you?
SD: Yes, he wasn’t well. We visited him at his residence. I can never forget that moment of love.
PA: When this book was released, Sheila Dikshit was considered to be a closed chapter. Three consecutive terms as the Chief Minister of Delhi, served as an MoS Parliamentary Affairs, MoS PMO, sworn in as the Governor of Kerala. At the time of book’s publication, your career in politics was considered to be over. Now, Sheila Dikshit is the President of the Delhi Congress Committee. How did this happen?
SD: There are full stops in other spheres of life. But there are no full stops in politics. We rise to the occasion when are we faced with specific problems under the circumstances. I didn’t ask for this position. I was asked to work for a few days as the elections are approaching.
PA: Is this a difficult time for you?
SD: Yes, it is a difficult challenge as we have to fight against both Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and BJP.
PA: You are referring to Delhi, but I am asking about the country.
SD: Congress is present all over the country. Also, the graph of the BJP is going down down whereas the graph of Congress is going up.
PA: Why do you think BJP’s graph is going down?
SD: What has been BJP’s achievement? BJP has done two big things- Demonetisation and GST. Who benefitted from this? No one, who has been in the business, has ever said ‘I benefitted from it a lot’. Look at the rising prices of food items.
PA: Do you have any other grievance against the BJP?
SD: What has BJP done? For which people would like to remember them? What change did the BJP bring in their lives to take them forward? Everyone had expectations of change from them. They talked big but nothing actually happened. As now, we approach the elections, one feels the pinch more.
PA: That’s the BJP’s graph according to you. How is the graph of Congress going up?
SD: During the 10 years of governance by Manmohan Singh, Indian economy changed and we moved forward. No one can deny that. Yes, after 10 years, people wanted a change in democracy. People demanded change from us after 10 years. But now the people feel the need for change just after the 5 years of BJP.
PA: I have been speaking to minorities especially the Muslims. They are very distressed. Other than demonetisation and GST, why didn’t you mention their plight as an issue of priority?
SD: Today, Muslims feel unsettled in the country. A lot of them come to me and want Congress back in power. They have had bad experience with the BJP. They feel like second rate citizens.
PA: What else do they expect from you?
SD: Firstly, they feel like second rate citizens. Secondly, they feel that they don’t get the equality of opportunities. There are others who are keeping silent but they do say you know what’s happening with us.
PA: You said, they want Congress back. But Muslims have had grievances against Congress as well, during the last 70 years.
SD: We all have grievances. Hindus also have grievances. There are grievances related to cast-based issues.
PA: How will the Congress address those grievances?
SD: Congress has been addressing such issues in the past. That’s why it has ruled for such a long period, because it has the capacity to reform itself.
PA: With the elections approaching, Congress would once again scare minorities, reminding them the BJP might come back. This is a negative way of seeking a vote. What is the positive vote for Congress?
SD: The positive vote for Congress is the India today. Who built India? Congress is the architect of India. Congress has ruled India for the maximum period whether by Indira Gandhi, Nehru or Narsimha Rao. They are the architects of India. BJP got to rule only once during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time and second now.
PA: Minorities would like to know, where does the Congress stand in terms of its ideology?
SD: Our stand for minorities is very clear. They are equal for us. They are good citizens. Above all, they are the citizens of this country. So how can we ignore the citizens of the country!
PA: But these citizens remain backward.Your govt did not even implement the Sachar Committee report.
SD: There are all sorts of people from various castes, creed or religion who are backward. Some lag behind while others are doing well. There are a lot of Muslims who are doing good and earning good income. Differences will always remain. Yes, the proportion of Muslims with backwardness might be more. That is our weakness which should be addressed but we will get it right.
PA: One of the reviews of your book says that you saved Sikhs during the 1984 riots. However, you did not indicate in your book who could have been responsible for the riots. Who was at fault? How far the Congress was responsible?
SD: The fault lies in the circumstances. Sometimes a situation arises such as the one in Indira Gandhi’s case as she was assassinated. That was not a normal situation. Certain situations lead to certain reactions – sometimes different from the previous reactions. Reactions keep changing from time to time depending on situations.
PA: The reaction was very horrifying. It was a blot on our country? Do you agree?
SD: Not a blot but an emotion, I would say. You may consider it an over-emotion. It can be an over emotion in your eyes. I acknowledge people faced difficulties…
PA: Difficulties? People got killed.
SD: Yes, people got killed, I agree. It was a moment of anger. It shouldn’t have happened. I agree with you there but it happened.
PA: People from Congress were also involved in that.
SD: Yes. But it was not only Congress. There were others involved too.
PA: Others could have been involved…
SD: Others could have been involved? They were involved.
PA: Do you think so?
SD: Yes. I had been living in Delhi, saw so many people. One couldn’t make out whether they were Congressis or others. But there were so many people. There were people who felt aggrieved because Indira Gandhi had been shot dead. People were angry and hurt after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination as well.
PA: In the 2002 Gujarat riots, Narendra Modi also blamed it on action-reaction. But is it not wrong? The reaction can never be in the form of slaughtering people or genocide.
SD: In situations such as these, when people feel they have been met with injustice, you cannot define the course of action-reaction. You are crying while I might be laughing. One feels it should have never happened whereas the others might justify it. There’s no uniformity of reactions in such situations.
PA: Let me ask you something different. People in Delhi have acknowledged your good work. But the same people defeated you in the elections. How did it happen?
SD: This is politics. Kejriwal ji’s party promised free water, electricity and other things. People went along with them. People also hope for change in a democracy. There was nothing specific against us; it was just a change in democracy. We are in politics. We are well aware that it is a process.
PA: So, now in response to that change, what are those three or four 4 things that you would like to come up with?
SD: I will comment on that once the change happens.
PA: You turned 80, Mashallah! On the other hand, there’s young Priyanka Gandhi entering politics. There’s a lot of excitement. Is that a new policy of politics in the Congress party?
SD: I accepted the offer as I am physically and mentally fit. I felt, I could and should offer my services to my party.
PA: What is your reaction on the entry of Priyanka Gandhi in politics?
SD: I am very happy. Her entry has generated a new energy. I am sure, she will do good. She’s not unfamiliar with politics. She used to look after her mother’s constituency.
PA: How different will be Priyanka Gandhi’s style of politics?
SD: Each generation brings a change. The policies have changed from my father-in-law’s time to mine; and from mine to Priyanka Gandhi’s time. Each generation creates their own atmosphere of working.
PA: Can you specify a couple of things?
SD: I can’t say it right now. Let her work. But I know this for sure, she is very competent. Whenever I have interacted with her, I found her very intelligent.
PA: By the time you finished your third term as the Chief Minister of Delhi, there were allegations against you?
SD: What allegations?
PA: For instance, the water tanker alleged scam worth 300- 400 crores…
SD: Was any allegation proved? It was the result of jealousy as I had served three terms. You accuse me of certain things but do not prove. Because, you have a political rivalry.
PA: There were issues with the Commonwealth Games Scandal…
SD: Commonwealth Games were very well organised. What was the allegation?
PA: Many, first of all, Suresh Kalmadi of the Congress Party was accused of wrong doings. Secondly, there was an allegation of misappropriation in a case of street lighting…
SD: But did they prove any thing? I was very disappointed at that time. The games were a success. The nation should have clapped at the success of the Commonwealth Games. I have got all the papers. Prove to me what I did was wrong.
PA: There was another case of Lokayukta against you….
SD: But have they proved any thing? Nothing. They have levelled allegations without having any proof.
PA: During the second term of Manmohan Singh, several allegations were levelled against the govt. But so far nothing much has happened since then. What is this culture of levelling allegations in politics?
SD: You should do analysis. What happened in the Bofors matter? They created a difficult atmosphere. It led to the downfall of our government. When there’s nothing against us, they resort to levelling baseless allegations.
PA: Do you have any new ideas to govern Delhi? During your previous reign, people were impressed with your work for arts, literature, flyover, constructions…
SD: The first idea is to clean Delhi. There’s so much filth around. Secondly, there is no control on traffic. Everyone is going their own way. We need to bring discipline and cleanliness in Delhi. This is all due to BJP, as all the MCDs are controlled by the BJP.
PA: It was the Congress government in centre during your rule in Delhi. You demanded full statehood for Delhi but did not get it. BJP too demands full statehood for Delhi when it’s not in power. No one has granted the status of full statehood to Delhi. Why?
SD: Delhi is the capital city of the country. The central government wants to keep maximum things under its control. So that it can keep an eye on the local government. Here, we neither have land nor final decision making. We can and should work according to the Constitution. Make the best of it. I don’t agree with the excuses that we are not allowed to do certain things.
PA: Do you agree that Delhi should get the status of a State?
SD: Yes. We demanded that Delhi should be given the status of a State. It was our government at that time but they denied, citing it was not allowed in the constitution. We accepted. Delhi is a state of special status; it is not like other states.
PA: Delhi has become a gas chamber, according to the Supreme Court with reference to pollution. The situation is worsening. None of the political parties- BJP, AAP, Congress- have taken any solid steps.
SD: We took steps against the worsening pollution of Delhi.
PA: What steps did you take?
SD. We brought the CNG. We changed the buses. We tried to control the traffic. It wasn’t this bad during our rule in Delhi. We made an improvement. Now, we do not see any effort being made to minimise pollution.
PA: Do you have any ideas to reduce pollution?
SD: If I would have been in the government, I would have given ideas to work on the issue. It is important to first understand what the ground reality is. Why is there so much pollution?
PA: Is pollution a priority for you?
SD: Definitely yes.
PA: Do you have any special ideas to tackle it?
SD: We employed experts to tackle the situation in the previous term. We will do it again if given a chance. Put experts on the job, they will find a solution. Pollution is not a new problem. But you have to find a way to solve it. The only step taken was odd and even. They think cars are the only problem.
PA: Coming back to the book! At the time when it was released, one felt as if the career of Sheila Dikshit was over. Now, one sees the rise of Sheila Dikshit. Is this a stop gap arrangement?
SD: I cannot comment on that. I have just accepted the work and will not consider it as a stop gap arrangement. I will do justice to the work.
PA: Thank you.