Delhi: Senior Congress leader and three-time former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit passed away Saturday afternoon at a private hospital here after suffering a cardiac arrest. She was 81. Dikshit breathed her last at 3.55 pm at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute. She was brought to the hospital Saturday morning in a "critical condition with cardiac arrest", a Fortis Escorts statement said."A multi-disciplinary team of doctors, led by Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, carried out the advanced resuscitative measures. Her condition stabilised temporarily. However, she had another cardiac arrest and despite all the resuscitative efforts, passed away at 3:55pm on July 20, 2019," it said.
For 15 long years (1998-2013) she ruled the Indian capital with urbane manners and good policies that endeared her to many of its 18 million people, dispersed across one of the world's most sprawling and historic capitals, a mix of the old and the new, the modern and the primitive.
She started off as a reluctant politician but never looked like one, brushing aside challenges within the Congress and beyond. In 2013, however, Sheila Dikshit couldn't save her party from an avalanche of discontent, quite a bit of it rubbing off on her by default because of disappointment and anger against the policies and programmes of the then Congress government.
All these years, Dikshit became the best known face of the Congress in Delhi, her popularity keeping pace with the rapid development the city saw on almost all fronts, save law and order over which she had no control and came under the purview of the federal government.
Credited for Delhi’s growing infrastructure including roads and flyovers, better public transport system – especially the Delhi Metro, as well as development on the health and educational fronts, during her tenure, Dikshit had also been Kerala Governor briefly in 2014.
Married to IAS officer Vinod Dikshit, who was close to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi but died prematurely of a heart attack, she began her political education by helping out her father-in-law, veteran Uttar Pradesh Congress leader Uma Shankar Dikshit, a minister in Indira Gandhi's cabinet. It was Indira Gandhi who chose Sheila Dikshit first for a UN delegation.
The family's affinity with the Gandhis helped. She became a minister in Rajiv Gandhi's government after entering the Lok Sabha in 1984 from Uttar Pradesh after her husband's death. She was later a minister in the Prime Minister's Office before the Congress was ousted nationally in 1989.
Dikshit's known rapport with Congress president Sonia Gandhi helped her become president of faction-ridden party in Delhi in May 1998, barely six months before she led it to victory in assembly elections.
In no time, Dikshit -- although not a powerful orator -- proved how to preside over a microscopic India called Delhi.
The Congress won an impressive 52 of the 70 seats in Delhi in 1998. The Dikshit magic worked again in 2003 and 2008.
The Kapurthala-born Dikshit was credited with numerous people-friendly programmes. She provided easy access to neighbourhood associations. She was at home in Hindi and English.
Former officials praised her for administrative skills -- and rapport with most party legislators. Despite a heart operation in 2012, the chief minister never went to sleep before 11 at night, said an aide. She was a product of Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Delhi and of Miranda House college in Delhi University. She loved movies and music -- and read Guy de Maupassant and Jane Austen.
Everything made her a favourite in a city where the Bharatiya Janata Party only kept losing in electoral battles for the assembly.
That is when things started going wrong.
The furore over perceived corruption leading up to the Commonwealth Games badly affected Delhi's image. Although she later claimed part credit for the way it was eventually held, it was widely felt that she too was guilty for the mess.
Then came the civil society movement of Gandhian Anna Hazare, whose lieutenant and government official-turned-activist Arvind Kejriwal became a bete noire, repeatedly finding faults with her administration.
The gang-rape and death of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012 and the frenzied protests that followed hurt Dikshit badly.
She tried to sail with people's mood by saying her own daughter didn't feel safe in Delhi. The remark didn't win her brownie points.
Runaway inflation, which affected prices of daily food items, shortage of water and rising power bills were exploited to the hilt, not just the BJP but the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too.
The Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in 2013 assembly elections and Dikshit also lost her seat to the current chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.