Secrets of a three-time winner: A lesson to the Pakatan politicians in 5 states

So what worked for Dixit? How did she manage to be catapulted into the “Chief Ministerial Hall of Fame’ in India’s most politically sensitive constituency? Dixit’s win, opine political pundits, had as much to do with her electoral strategy as with her decade-long performance record.

In the cesspool that Indian politics has become, Dixit is viewed as a squeaky clean, diligent and progressive politician who has fast-tracked Delhi’s development. She’s also seen as a genial person, at once at home with the masses and the classes, the young and the old. She takes as much pride in being a doting grandmother (she has two children, a daughter and son, Sandeep Dixit, who is a member of parliament) as in discharging her responsibilities as a politician working to uplift and empower the poor.

By Neeta Lal, Asia Times Online

NEW DELHI – Few expected New Delhi’s chief minister, silver-haired septuagenarian Sheila Dixit, to snag the crown a third time in the recently concluded state assembly elections. In a bitterly contested fight, Dixit – the ruling Congress party candidate – vanquished the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Vijay Kumar Malhotra, 78, to achieve a rare triple whammy in Delhi’s political history – being anointed chief minister the third time since she came to power in 1998.

Dixit’s win is historic by most standards. She has captured a constituency that has traditionally been a BJP bastion. Not only that, she has overcome a tsunami-esque anti-incumbency wave against her party, its weak anti-terror policy being partially blamed for the Mumbai mayhem. Plus there was the bugbear of record inflation and intra-Congress squabbling which would have debilitated the strongest of chief ministerial contenders.

But not Dixit. Defying poll predictions, and punditry, her party romped home with 42 seats in the 70-member assembly, leaving the BJP trailing with 23. The feat is rendered all the more remarkable considering it hasn’t been a great run for women in the assembly this year. The number of successful women candidates has been whittled down to three from seven, though 81 of them were in the fray.

So what worked for Dixit? How did she manage to be catapulted into the “Chief Ministerial Hall of Fame’ in India’s most politically sensitive constituency? Dixit’s win, opine political pundits, had as much to do with her electoral strategy as with her decade-long performance record.

She fought on the twin planks of development and governance, listing the smooth conduct of the Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi in 2010 and overall city development as priorities for her government. And these points went down well with an increasingly mature Indian electorate that is ostensibly underwhelmed by its corrupt, non-performing politicians.

Dixit, on the contrary, has let her work do all the talking. She has changed the visage of India’s national capital with her development projects – be it 17 flyovers, 64 kilometers of the Metro rail, regularization of unauthorized colonies or augmented water and electricity supplies for Delhi’s residents. Her approach was an antithesis to her opponents, who tried to extract political mileage out of the Mumbai terror attacks.

“She highlighted local issues which struck a chord with people. It’s a mandate at once against the terrorists’ plan to sabotage our democracy and the opposition’s attempts to make political capital out of it,” said political scientist Dr Manoj Khosla of Delhi University.

Plus, there’s Dixit’s formidable image to reckon with. In the cesspool that Indian politics has become, Dixit is viewed as a squeaky clean, diligent and progressive politician who has fast-tracked Delhi’s development. She’s also seen as a genial person, at once at home with the masses and the classes, the young and the old. She takes as much pride in being a doting grandmother (she has two children, a daughter and son, Sandeep Dixit, who is a member of parliament) as in discharging her responsibilities as a politician working to uplift and empower the poor.

However, though Dixit seems to have carved an enviable niche for herself in the slippery terrain of Indian politics, it wasn’t so to begin with. In 1986, when the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi launched her in his cabinet as a junior minister, many said she had it easy and that the post came to her “courtesy” of her father-in-law, erstwhile Congress loyalist and former home minister Uma Shankar Dixit. In 1998, when she was brought into Delhi politics, first as the city’s Congress chief and later as chief minister, she was promptly dubbed an “outsider”.

In fact, the outsider tag has haunted Dixit ever since she forayed into Delhi’s political landscape. Perhaps because she wasn’t born there but in the Kapurthala district of Punjab, northern India, even though she studied at a Delhi convent and did her post graduate studies in English at Miranda House, one of the city’s blue-chip colleges known for its fiery feminist students.

With this backdrop, it’s hardly surprising that Dixit has never failed to champion the cause of women at various forums. She represented India on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women for five years (1984 -89). In Uttar Pradesh she and 82 colleagues were jailed in August 1990 for 23 days by the state government when she led a movement against the atrocities being committed on women. Such was her impact that hundreds of thousands of citizens all over Uttar Pradesh joined the movement and courted arrest.

Marriage to the late Vinod Dixit, a member of the elite Indian Administrative Service, marked the turning point in the chief minister’s life. Her father-in-law, a noted freedom fighter, encouraged Dixit to plunge into social service. A people’s person, Dixit’s rise was meteoric thereafter. In 1984, she contested the Lok Sabha (Lower House) elections from the Kannauj constituency in Uttar Pradesh and emerged victorious.

She was appointed the parliamentary affairs minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet. Later, she became the chief of Delhi Congress. During 1986 to 1989, Dixit also served as a minister of state for parliamentary affairs and later as a minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Today, with over three decades of experience behind her, Dixit calls the shots in Delhi. So much so that her boss – the overcautious Congress chief Sonia Gandhi – gave her a free hand in selecting candidates and planning campaigns for the assembly elections. Trusted with such authority, Dixit ensured that even her weakest candidate won.

However, despite Dixit’s remarkable win, there’s no doubt she needs to work hard on her weak areas. Foremost among them is the issue of safety in Delhi. The city, according to latest figures from the National Crime Research Bureau, has emerged as India’s crime capital with 50,895 cases of crime committed in 2007. Compared to Delhi, even Mumbai – which has an eclectic diaspora – recorded 30,481 crime cases per year.

The lack of security at Delhi’s airport, hotels, malls and even offices and homes has been an issue with its citizenry for long. Especially this year, which has seen a slew of high-profile killings, including that of a young TV journalist, Soumya Visvanathan, who was murdered when she was returning home from work past midnight. When Dixit was criticized in the context of the lack of safety for women in Delhi, she remarked rather arrogantly that if women move around at such hours, “they are asking for trouble”. The remark got her into a lot of hot water with both feminists and the press.

Given this backdrop, Dixit’s real challenges lie in the looming year of the vote in 2009. At the top of her agenda are: providing security to Delhi’s citizens, organizing the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and coping with the myriad challenges thrown up by her fractious party members. Not to mention the opposition party which – having tasted ignominious defeat – is waiting with bated breath for Dixit to trip and fall.

Neeta Lal is a widely published writer/commentator who contributes to many reputed national and international print and Internet publications.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: