Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s earliest memories of Delhi are from her growing-up days. It was a time when there were barely any cars on the roads. Then, Matka Peer, near Pragati Maidan, was the end of Delhi. “Our trip to Qutab Minar used to be a whole-day affair. Since we didn’t have a car, and we didn’t use an official car, we used to go in a tonga, spend the day there and come back in the evening before it became dark,” she says.
Sheila’s Delhi started changing rapidly after 1947 with the influx of refugees from Pakistan. There were camps all over. “When I grew up, it was the typical old Delhi, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk culture; there weren’t many eateries, perhaps one Alps, one Gaylord and one Quality. Then there was the growth of colonies like Jor Bagh, Golf Links, Greater Kailash. Delhi got a lot of Punjabiyat in it then; now there is both Punjabiyat and Bihariyat; there are Keralites, Bengalis and Northeastern people, so it is a very cosmopolitan city now,” Sheila says.
For Sheila, it was a very simple and straightforward life then. “Our games were playing a bit of pithhoo, plus we would count the number of cars. I remember myself cycling at 10-11 pm near Lutyens’ Delhi bungalows.”
In those times, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were there. “They were such erudite personalities that I used to be awestruck by them. When I was studying MA, I saw Pandit Nehru’s photo on front page of a newspaper; he let off a pigeon and you felt the day was all right.” Sheila was “fortunate to have a father-in-law who was a very hard-working and self-effacing politician and had a lot of family responsibilities and one son. Despite being the sole earning person, he married 23 daughters, not his own.” That instilled a sense of social responsibility and patriotism in her.
Because of her husband, a career bureaucrat, she got to know how bureaucracy functions. “I could understand the ethos of a political person and bureaucracy. The bureaucracy I must tell you is utmost important; one cannot do without it. They respect you, you respect them, and it is mutual. I worked with bureaucracy then in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet and found it comfortable,” she says.
According to Sheila, Delhi has truly become the capital of the country. It has changed enormously in the past 15-18 years—demographically, culturally, educationally, health wise and infrastructure wise. “We were fortunate to have two games, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. These are landmarks which brought in infrastructure, quicker than it might have happened.”
While Sheila can take credit for transforming the city into a world-class metropolis in the last decade, her son and Member of Parliament from East Delhi, Sandeep, has been pushing for a monorail project, which will be built in congested areas where setting up Metro rail is not possible. A project is being planned from Shastri Park Metro station to Trilokpuri, which will have 12 stations.
Sandeep’s election has ensured transformation of an unfashionable East Delhi to a place that has seen a wave of development. Be it setting up of hospitals and dispensaries or widening and relaying of roads, now even the first proposed route of monorail will pass through his constituency.
Meanwhile, Sheila remains a passionate lover of Delhi. She says harmony is one of the city’s lovable aspects. “People come and settle here. Nobody asks who are you, where are you from, why have you come here. And they all get absorbed. Once a politician comes to Delhi, I don’t think he or she ever goes back, so there is some attraction in the soil which takes you in,” claims Sheila. She, however, admits that there are complaints of dirty water, and many other. But despite that, she says, Delhi has emerged as the most comfortable city to live in. The bad aspects of Delhi are an ever-increasing population. Vehicles are growing, people work elsewhere and live here. “The city is growing at a rate which is a little frightening, because it has limited land. It has a multiplicity of authority. How do we compete with the other capital cities in the world? That is the challenge before us,” she says.
It seems as if the spirit of development has been handed down to the next generation. The clout of Sandeep last week ensured that East Azad Nagar become the first unauthorised colony in East Delhi the layout of which was approved by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation.
There have been changes in social values though; there is insecurity among women. Delhi has a huge influx of people. “On the other hand, today one can be proud of Delhi being the most comfortable with the best possible opportunities. In the next 10 years or more, we would really have succeeded in the eyes of the world when people would say I want to go to Delhi, like people say I want to go to Paris, I want to go to Tokyo.”