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Performance is the basis

Published : Jan 02, 2009 00:00 IST

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Interview with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

SHE has been described as the superstar among the winners in the recent Assembly elections. But Sheila Dikshit, who has been chosen the Chief Minister of Delhi for the third consecutive term, has no airs of one.

In an interview to Frontline, she dwelt at length on the factors that contributed to the historic victory and also assessed what it meant to Congress politics at the national level. Excerpts:

You have won the elections for a record third time in very difficult circumstances. Political pundits had predicted your ouster from power on account of a variety of factors. In your campaign, how did you react to all these?

I had expected this result, basically for one reason. That was our connection with the people. It has been a continuous, ongoing process for so many years and is not limited to the election period or election-related issues. So many people-oriented programmes were developed, discussed and implemented during this interactive process. The programme called Aapki Rasoi (Your Kitchen) is one of them. It is for the destitute of Delhi who were forced to eat out of garbage cans, or women who are on the pavements. The programme sought to give at least one square meal a day that was nutritious.

There is a scheme called Laadli (Beloved Daughter), which sought to bring primary education to girl children. The programme actively intervened in households which were reducing girl children into just doing chores such as looking after their siblings. I was in touch with many of the beneficiaries personally and this was true of many of my political and administrative colleagues too. I would say my interaction with the people has never been weak. That is the reason for the belief. And when our rivals in the BJP went forth to have interaction with the people at election time, they realised that almost all the programmes they wanted to do were already being implemented or were in the pipeline.

But the most widely discussed campaign issues were not the ones you are talking about. There were widespread discussions on the Delhi serial blasts, price rise, the governments failure to control inflation, and above all the Mumbai terror attacks, which took place just on the eve of the elections.

The way the BJP brought in national issues in fact worked to our advantage. Every section of the population had benefited from or at least interacted at a positive level with our government. And here was the BJP trying to capitalise on terrorist attacks by communalising the issue. They said the Afzal Guru file was lying in Sheila Dikshits drawer and she was blocking steps to punish him. Then they brought in the issue of Bangladeshi migrants, saying I was responsible for the influx of these people. Both these campaigns backfired because people knew that a State government did not have any say in an issue like Afzal Gurus and that Sheila Dikshit cannot be responsible for the influx of Bangladeshi migrants because the border with Bangladesh is far away. The same was the case with price rise and inflation. You had BJP Chief Ministers like Vasundhara Raje holding forth on television about inflation and price rise being national-global phenomena and here was the local BJP trying to hold me responsible for all that.

My counter to the BJPs campaign on national issues was based on logic. And, I tell you, people understand logic very well. Another factor that helped us overcome all the negative campaigning on so-called national issues was the rise of a large section of young voters. The youth want progress and do not want divisions on communal lines. During the second half of polling, I heard from my fellow workers that large numbers of young men and women were coming out to vote and then I knew we had made it yet again.

What, in your opinion, is the national significance of this victory? There is a stream of opinion that this is not only a political victory for the Congress, but a personal endorsement of Sheila Dikshits charisma.

I wouldnt want to reduce this victory to personality factors. It is all very nice to hear about charisma and la-la-la. But I hope and pray that the larger message of this election goes across the country. It has been an election where issues of caste, creed, language and communal politics have been literally rejected by the majority of people.

We are a government that has sought to build up infrastructure in the national capital even while focussing on improving the social indices and living standards. You may want development in the form of a flyover, but one also needs to look at that old and frail woman who has been thrown out of her house for not being useful and for being a burden on the rest of the family.

I am no economist but my perspective is one that brings together the varied dimensions of development. I suppose you require a householders approach to development in order to bring in this combination. It requires a woman to do this.

Ours is a government that has spent more than 52 per cent of its plan expenditure on the social sector. And we spend 98 per cent of our plan funds. Nowhere else in the country is it done. This is the message that I would like to go out from this result. That performance is the basis for electing or rejecting governments and not divisive, communal and casteist politics.

In a sense you are rejecting the pursuit of the policy of economic liberalisation, which has been termed by many in our country as Manmohanomics. So, does the message that you want to go out from this result involve a course correction in terms of the policies of the Congress government at the Centre?

See, the Manmohan Singh government is doing what it has to do and I am doing what I should do. I dont think there is any conflict here.

So, where does Sheila Dikshit go from here?

To the Commonwealth Games. My next priority is to ensure the successful conduct of the Commonwealth Games. This would not only enhance Delhis position on the global map but also improve the conditions of life of the people of Delhi. The infrastructure and the facilities that are coming up for the Games are permanent and will match up to international standards.

My reference actually was to the stream of opinion that says Sheila Dikshits hat-trick has made her a potential Prime Minister.

The mandate that I have got is to govern Delhi. I do not propose to abdicate that responsibility.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jan 02, 2009.)

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