How and why Sheila Dikshit crushed BJP in Delhi? (News Analysis)

December 9th, 2008 - 3:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyNew Delhi, Dec 9 (IANS) Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s amiable personality and a largely efficient administration are being credited for the Congress party’s surprise - and thumping - victory in the assembly elections in the national capital that has left the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a state of shock.A day after the Congress edged past the BJP 3-2 in five state elections, with only some months left for new parliamentary polls, BJP insiders were still fumbling to explain the silent wave that helped the Congress crush an overconfident BJP.

As early as Monday morning when the counting of votes polled in the Nov 29 Delhi elections started, most pundits and almost all BJP leaders and punters were betting on an easy BJP win under the leadership of warhorse Vijay Kumar Malhotra. Though Malhotra easily won his seat, the Congress, despite 10 long years in power, swept an incredible 42 seats in the 70-member assembly. A shocked BJP finished with 23 seats, far short of the minimum 36 needed to form a government.

For once, even Congress politicians, otherwise known to invariably credit all election victories to the Nehru-Gandhi family charisma, praised Dikshit lavishly - an admission that she was the architect of the party’s remarkable performance.

This was more so because the Congress had entered the electoral arena as a visible underdog for a variety of reasons.

The Mumbai terror savagery that killed 172 people and ignited a wave of anger and disappointment among Indians was continuing even as Delhi voted Nov 29. Rising food prices had seriously affected the millions of poor in Delhi who form the bulk of the voters. The Dikshit government had been roundly attacked over a poorly conceived and executed road project in south Delhi and the sealing of thousands of homes and shops after a Supreme Court fiat.

And the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which contested all the seats in Delhi, was expected to undercut the Congress - by wooing a large bulk of Dalit and poor voters.

Residents and political activists now admit that while these factors appeared to be overwhelming, there were several undercurrents that pundits had clearly overlooked.

These included Dikshit’s widespread popularity that transcended all ethnic and religious groups. BJP’s Malhotra was no match in this respect although he has been in politics for decades.

In the decade she has ruled Delhi, infrastructure has developed enormously in the form of new roads, flyovers and the gleaming Metro, to keep pace with the city’s choking traffic. Delhi also began to get new plush buses - benefiting millions who depend on public transport.

Delhi’s public transport has also gone green and polluting industries have been shifted out of residential areas. The chief minister earned credit for all these developments although some of these took place because of Supreme Court pressure.

Another of Dikshit’s pet schemes that proved enormously popular was the “Bhagidari” (parternship) scheme, under which the Delhi administration funded Residents Welfare Associations to carry out local area development.

The Dikshit government also paid a lot of attention to the elderly. Delhi became the first city where “senior citizens”, those over 60, were given privileges including the right to pay public utilities bills without standing in queues. And though she is not in charge of Delhi Police, she asked senior officials to regularly meet with the elderly.

Water and electricity shortages have also eased in Delhi. The government has also actively promoted water harvesting and encouraged solar power as a green alternative. Saplings were given away free to promote greenery. Parents of girl children from poor families got special financial sops.

Dikshit paid attention to the development of the Indraprastha University as well as technical institutes. Internet has made payment of house rent easy, doing away with corrupt middlemen.

Amid all this, the high-pitched BJP propaganda against the Congress and Dikshit failed to dent her standing - although she herself was unsure if her party would indeed win the elections outright.

Residents explained why the impossible happened.

A doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) who did not want to be named, told IANS: “Though we don’t come under the Delhi government, my colleagues and I always found the chief minister very cooperative, very easy going in all our dealings.

“Over a period of time, I realised that her staff was equally polite. She did not tolerate corruption. Even the poorest could access her easily on any issue. I am not surprised she won.”

Added Sudha Pai, a schoolteacher: “To me, Sheila Dikshit is dignity personified. She could well be your next door neighbour. She seems to have no air about herself. Naturally, I voted for her.”

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