At 81, Sheila Dikshit was easily one of the most influential and experienced politicians from the current array of political leaders in the country. She commanded respect from ministers across the board and was crucial in aiding Delhi’s infrastructural development during her 15-year-long rule in the national capital between 1998 and 2013. Dikshit joined politics in an era when fewer women had political aspirations and women from political families usually contested to become and remain just a face of the position of MP or MLA while the men in their families did the actual work. She dived in to politics not only to join but rule.

Entry into politics

Dikshit, who died of cardiac arrest today, July 20 at 3.55 p.m., graduated with a Master of Arts degree in History from the Miranda House. Her entry into politics took place due to her father-in-law Uma Shankar Dikshit, a well-known activist during India’s freedom struggle. He became union minister in the Nehru government which is when Dikshit got involved in politics as she started to support him. When a woman is in power, diversity is a given. Indira Gandhi was in power then and she recognised Dikshit’s potential and made her the India representative of United Nations Commission on the Status of Women—a post she held for five years between 1984-89.

As Delhi’s longest serving Chief Minister of three consecutive terms from 1998-2013, she changed the face of the city and gave it its ‘international stature’.

Changing the face of Delhi 

As Delhi’s longest serving Chief Minister of three consecutive terms from 1998-2013, she changed the face of the city and gave it its ‘international stature’. Delhi’s growing infrastructure including roads and flyovers, a less polluted city, better public transport system as well as development on the health and educational fronts were all solely credited to Dikshit’s efforts. While ruling in Delhi can be challenging as the CM barely has control over law and order and other major decision-making areas, but during her term, her party was elected at the Centre for the majority of her term except between 1998-2003 that brought her the capacity to make the changes and develop the city’s infrastructure. Another noteworthy element to Dikshit’s term as Delhi CM was that she wasn’t even a Delhiite when she came to Delhi after winning an assembly election from Gole Market constituency in 1998. Soon after in the same year she became the CM of the Union Territory.

Instrumental fight for women’s causes

Dikshit’s support to women’s causes goes way back to the early 70s when as the chairperson of the Young Women’s Association, she played a key role in the setting up two of the most successful hostels for working women in Delhi.  She was India’s representative at the UN Commission on Status of Women. After this she did not let the voice shut down and one of the most significant events of her political career was displaying her strength and vigour when she and her 82 other colleagues had to go to jail in 1990. Dikshit had commanded a protest march against violence against women for which the state government then imprisoned them all for 23 days.

The grace of Sheila Dikhit

There is no politician who has been in the public eye as much as Sheila Dikshit and did not have controversies follow them around in their political career. However, Dikshit had an approachable demeanour which some of the older journalists who covered her extensively during her ministerial stint confirm. Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai shared an anecdote from one of his recent interviews with Dikshit and wrote on Twitter, “During the recent Delhi elections, I asked @SheilaDikshit how she was coping with elections at 81. She smiled: abhi toh main jawan hoon! Grace and decency, Sheila ji bridged the gap between Lutyens Delhi and the rest of the city effortlessly… RIP”

Another journo Nishtula Hebbar of The Hindu wrote, “Very sad to hear about the death of @SheilaDikshit. She was a wonderful person, always told reporters to eat first, and then work. We will miss you ma’am. RIP”

“One of dozens of interviews I did with @SheilaDikshit over the decades. She never flinched at a question and always smiled in her repartee. I don’t know another politician who endeared herself even when you totally disagreed with her,’ wrote Barkha Dutt. These testimonials are evidences of Dikshit’s grace and elegance as a political person.

In the face of an eminent political leader’s death, Delhi which could have never been what it is today without the contribution of Dikshit, will have a two-day state mourning, the government announced today after her death.

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