IN­SIDER, OUT­SIDER

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Ira Pande

Any ac­count of the life and times of a prom­i­nent politi­cian is an op­por­tu­nity to un­der­stand an al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity, as A. Raja’s re­cent book shows. Sadly, the genre of po­lit­i­cal bi­og­ra­phy and autobiography in In­dia is of­ten dis­ap­point­ing as it rarely looks be­yond the ba­nal de­tails of events and elec­tions. Equally, few read­ers are both­ered about is­sues of ethics or pub­lic mo­ral­ity, hav­ing out­sourced such vi­tal topics to the daily slang­ing matches that now pass for prime­time news.

Sheila Dik­shit was, and for many still is, Delhi’s favourite Aun­tyji. Grace­ful and smil­ing, her hair tied up in a granny’s knot, she han­dled her job as Delhi’s chief min­is­ter in the same no-non­sense, ef­fi­cient way that she ran her beau­ti­ful home. Re­mark­ably free of ar­ro­gance (an oc­cu­pa­tional po­lit­i­cal hazard), she ex­udes a warmth that is gen­uine and en­dear­ing. Like Dick Whit­ting­ton, she was elected as chief min­is­ter three times and—ex­cept for the last cou­ple of years—she suc­ceeded in bring­ing a vis­i­ble change to the qual­ity of life in Delhi. Her un­wor­thy suc­ces­sor re­minds us of these facts all the time.

There is much that one ex­pected to learn about the in­ner func­tion­ing of Dik­shit’s party from her since her ca­reer spans al­most the full gamut of mod­ern Congress his­tory. With her fa­ther-in-law, Uma Shankar Dik­shit as her men­tor and a close re­la­tion­ship with four gen­er­a­tions of the Nehru-Gandhi pari­var, there is noth­ing that she must not know about how pol­i­tics is played. Yet the book is a bland, po­lite re­count­ing of facts that leaves one with many unan­swered ques­tions. Among them is her si­lence on her party’s po­si­tion on such earth-shat­ter­ing events as the Sikh ri­ots of ’84 and the han­dling of the Shah Bano is­sue when Dik­shit was in charge of par­lia­men­tary af­fairs.

What does come across is her deep ad­mi­ra­tion for the Dik­shits, Uma Shankar and hus­band Vinod. In a rare per­sonal con­fes­sion, she ad­mits that some­thing died within her when she lost Vinod at the young age of 45. Her re­spect for his fa­ther and cabi­net min­is­ter in the 1970s, Uma Shankar Dik­shit, is equally touch­ing, and even though she does not be­come maudlin about their re­la­tion­ship, it shines through in her rec­ol­lec­tion of the days when she was his of­fi­cial host­ess.

While one re­spects her ret­i­cence in pri­vate mat­ters, she can­not ex­pect read­ers to un­der­stand why she still con­tin­ues to be­long to a party that has let her down re­peat­edly. There are few Congress mem­bers who have her skill in han­dling pub­lic af­fairs—as her Bhagi­dari scheme shows. Then why has she cho­sen to re­main a silent spec­ta­tor to its grad­ual drift away from the peo­ple it woos? One hopes some­one will one day tell us why the Em­peror wears no clothes.

Sheila Dik­shit re­mains silent on some is­sues, like her party’s po­si­tion on the 1984 ri­ots

M ZHAZO

CI­TI­ZEN DELHI: MY TIMES, MY LIFE by Sheila Dik­shit Blooms­bury In­dia Price: `499, Pages: 186

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