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Delhi Chief Secy Row: Sheila Dikshit Says Kejriwal Must Behave Like CM

File photo of former Delhi CM and Congress leader Sheila Dikshit. (Photo: Reuters)

File photo of former Delhi CM and Congress leader Sheila Dikshit. (Photo: Reuters)

"Politicians take policy decisions and bureaucrats implement them. If you take a decision and there is nobody to implement it, then how are you going to work," the former Delhi chief minister asked.

New Delhi: Delhi witnessed chaotic, unprecedented scenes on Tuesday when the Chief Secretary claimed he was assaulted by MLAs of the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This was followed by two AAP leaders Imran Hussain and Ashish Khetan being heckled and assaulted by a mob in Delhi Secretariat. With the relationship between the ruling party and the bureaucracy at its nadir, three-time Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit spoke to News18’s Uday Singh Rana about how she handled conflict, her return to active politics and regrets over the 2017 UP elections, where she was Congress’s Chief Ministerial candidate.

On Tuesday, the Delhi Chief Secretary claimed he was assaulted. Later in the day, two Aam Aadmi Party leaders were also assaulted. As a former Chief Minister, what are your initial thoughts on this unprecedented incident?

I am very disturbed after this. The bureaucracy and politicians are two wings of the same bird. You can’t fly without either. Politicians take policy decisions and bureaucrats implement them. If you take a decision and there is nobody to implement it, then how are you going to work?

The relationship between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Prime Minister Modi is far from perfect. In your initial years as Chief Minister, the Central Government was headed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. How was your relationship with him?

It was excellent. It was as great as my working relationship with any Prime Minister. Because please remember, Delhi is not a full state. It has to go to the Central government for practically anything. But for the people of Delhi, this (Chief Minister) is the face of the Delhi Government. They don’t care that you have to keep going to the Centre. For them, the CM is responsible. And we (Vajpayee and I) managed to get a lot of work done, including work on the Delhi Metro.

He (Vajpayee) would never say it was “Sheila ka kaam” (Sheila’s work). Instead, he used to say this is “Delhi ka kaam” (Delhi’s work) and he would tell his bureaucrats to see to it that it was done. I didn’t always get what I wanted. Sometimes, I went with ten demands but got eight things. But the relationship was not one of conflict, like the current relationship between the CM and PM.

So were there no conflicts at all between you and Prime Minister Vajpayee?

No, no. He was magnanimous and large-hearted. The Centre also has an interest in ensuring that Delhi gets what it needs because they would not like a shabby capital. People come here from all over the world. The diplomatic corps also lives here.

What about your relationship with the bureaucracy?

I didn’t have any problems at all with the bureaucracy. Never. In fact, the first Chief Secretary I had in 1998 was appointed by the previous BJP government. I was asked by the then Home Minister LK Advani if I would like to change the Chief Secretary. I told them I was fine working with the same bureaucrat. That stood me in good stead. One expects a bureaucrat to not be political and they do what they are told to do.

At this juncture, what would your advice to the Chief Minister be?

(Laughs) I would tell him to behave like a Chief Minister.

When you look back at the 2013 Delhi Elections, which you lost, what do you think went wrong? Did you go back to the drawing board after that?

Yes, we did. A lot of things went wrong for us. There were a lot of rumours, false rumours I would say because nothing has been proven, about the Commonwealth Games. Secondly, there was probably a sense of fatigue. People said ‘Pandrah saal ho gaye hain, ab badlo’ (We have had the same government for 15 years, now let’s change it). Thirdly, the Central Government’s aura of being a corrupt government fell on us (Delhi Congress) because we were in Delhi. Then there was the Nirbhaya case.

Do you think that the image of a corrupt UPA government was accurate?

(It doesn’t matter if it was) accurate or inaccurate, the papers wrote about it and people believed it.
Ajay Maken recently said he reached out to you and asked you to play a more active role in the Delhi Congress. Why was an outreach necessary? Were you feeling upset or sidelined?

I wasn’t upset. I can’t be upset with my own party. Whatever they (high command) asked me to do, I do. I never said yes or no. And I don’t run after anything. So if they don’t ask me to do something then I won’t do it.

So what will your role now be in Delhi Congress?

I don’t know, it is for the Congress high command to decide. They had just asked me to be a part of the delegation that went to the Lieutenant Governor so I went there. If they hadn’t asked me, I wouldn’t have gone.

What did you convey to the Lieutenant Governor?

We conveyed to the LG a great concern that if the political wing of the government and bureaucratic wing of the government were at loggerheads, there wouldn’t be any governance in Delhi. The Congress did a lot of work for Delhi and if the governance of Delhi collapses, it would be a great shame for the country. It is, after all, the capital of the country. He said they are looking into it but didn’t give any details.

After 15 years at the helm in Delhi, you had a brief stint in Uttar Pradesh politics. You were the CM candidate of the party and then suddenly, there was an alliance with the Samajwadi Party. Looking back at that campaign, do you have any regrets?

I don’t regret it. I just found it (the alliance) rather surprising. I don’t regret for the simple fact that I greatly enjoyed travelling all over Uttar Pradesh and seeing the responses of the wonderful people of the state. That was very encouraging. But I regret it to the extent that… well, I asked a question – Was it a necessary step to forge the alliance after the kind of positive reception that we were getting. If it were up to me I would go it alone in UP, but the High Command obviously has the final say in these matters.

20 Aam Aadmi Party MLAs are facing disqualification and Delhi may see by-elections sometime this year. Will we see a return of Sheila Dixit to electoral politics?

Well, we certainly hope that the Congress party bounces back. That is why we are all working together. As for me, I am not going to contest these bypolls.

Will you be open for a Vidhan Sabha run in 2020?

Nothing is certain in life. I never thought I would be sitting at the LG’s office along with the rest of the party. Politics is all about the unknown.

You were standing right next to Rahul Gandhi when he took over as Congress President. How has he developed as a leader since 2004? Can he lead the party in 2019?

Yes, I think he is absolutely ready to lead the party. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and everyone else also made mistakes all the time. But what matters is that he has got it in him and he is serious about it. He has gained a lot of maturity over these last few years and his interactions with people prove that. He is very conscious of the fact that the responsibility is on him now.

Can the Congress emerge as the nucleus around which a grand anti-BJP alliance can gather?

Well, there is some talk about it (grand alliance). I think Sonia Gandhi has also indicated that. Personally, I think it will be a good thing if all the like-minded opposition parties come together, instead of remaining fragmented. It will make a huge difference.

You have identified as a Nehruvian. Recently, Prime Minister Modi launched an attack on Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Parliament. Do you think the Prime Minister’s reading of history is accurate?

How can you underplay the role of Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel? We see their work all around us. How can you twist history like that? Who has made this country? Who has made all this? You (BJP) have only been there for four years and you think you can take away Nehru’s legacy? It is because of Nehru’s legacy that we are what we are today.