'I have won Delhi thrice, does that make me a PM candidate too?'

Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit talks about whether her party will manage to overcome the strong anti-incumbency sentiment after fifteen years in power

June 14, 2013 in Politics
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Photos: Vijay Pandey

Photos: Vijay Pandey

Starting with the mood in Delhi in the run up to the elections, what do you think have been your achievements and what do you feel remains to be done, or are personal disappointments about your tenure?

We’ve been fortunate to have won the last three elections, but every election has been challenging. The opposition colours also change – there was BSP, this time there’s Kejriwal, and of course the BJP is there. We have done 15 years of work and its physicality is very much present. So let’s hope that the people will take the right decision. We’re working hard at the moment in reaching out to people, reminding them what has been done. It is not going to be an easy election, but we’re got the confidence.

But in your own estimate of yourself, what would you count as the downsides or what you would like to change?

The one downside would be that people might wish for a change, provided they find a credible change. That’s about all. Otherwise, touchwood, we have not got into any scandals. During the Commonwealth Games there was a lot of hullabaloo about corruption, but both the Shunglu Committee and the CAG came out with nothing. So we can’t be faulted on. We’ve done many innovative things.

Like?

Like in the social sector, we are the first state to start a cash transfer for food. We’ve got the Laadli scheme for young girls, to track them coming to school and when they finish Class 12, we give them Rs 1,00,000. We’ve got the Annashree scheme for those not covered under the PDS. Then we’ve got the Kishori scheme, which aims for the personal healthcare girl of 7-8 lakh young girls by providing them sanitary napkins. Then we also have pensions for the old which are more than anywhere else in the country. Widows or handicapped get Rs 1500 a month. The widows also get Rs 600 additionally under the Annashree scheme, which makes it Rs 2,100. So about 65 percent of our budget goes into the social sector and the rest you can see – the metro, the airport, even our ISBT bus stand today is one of the best we have in the country.

The Gujarat model of development has been talked about everywhere. Delhi has developed, but there wasn’t that kind of advertisement about it.

No, we did not do that deliberately because in my way of thinking, we are a small state. You can see a flyover, I don’t have to tell you that I made a flyover. You can see the metro or the greenery, I don’t have to tell you about it. If a person is getting a pension of Rs 1500, he feels it. I remember an old man of about 70 years telling me that he could now buy sweets for his grandchildren. These are small things, but you can actually feel these changes, it gives you some dignity or some comfort. But now that 15 years are over, we thought some recall value was required.

You have talked a lot about the social sector and social spending. But one of the big conundrums for big magnet cities like Delhi or Bombay, where so much of the economy runs on the working class, is that there is almost no thought for workers’ colonies in the city planning. We’ve had terrible evictions for the CWG, going to Bawana is like going to hell, there are huge drinking water problems in the working class colonies. So as a city, there seems to be absolutely no planning. While cities like Barcelona are talking so much about creating mixed neighbourhoods, our planning in fact is to create sanitized neighbourhoods. What are your thoughts on this?

You see Noida and Gurgaon were conceptualised as a kind of appendage, Delhi is the epicenter of these cities. The biggest problem in Delhi, is migration. It’s an attractive city, whoever comes and lives here, doesn’t want to ever go back. Secondly, you have so many people coming in. One million people come to work from around Delhi, which includes Meerut and other places. The time that they are here, they use the roads, water, and the buses. Even if we say that the population of Delhi today is 1,70,00,000, there is an add on of 10 lakh more, and then ofcourse half a million keep coming in. It’s a growing and attractive city, but it’s got limited land and water of its own. So it’s not easy to catch up with the demands.

But there are problems even in case of the old population here. TEHELKA reported about the housing crisis in Delhi where we spoke to people who have come here three generations ago, but still don’t have houses. There is no concerted effort in building working class housing or any thinking about the slums within the city.

I don’t agree with that at all. Delhi is a very complex city where governance is concerned. You see, the land belongs to DDA and housing is their responsibility, the police is not with this government, it comes under the Home ministry of the Central government. So in a complex system, processes and procedures do take time. We’ve made about 10,000 buildings and people are moving into them slowly. Then, I personally feel that they need to have this feeling about open spaces, which the city has, despite its population and its pressures. Delhi is not a city which has got only tall buildings. Also, it’s not fair to compare it to Barcelona.

The point was not to compare Delhi with Barcelona, but to say that the thinking there is about having mixed neighbourhoods which include the elite as well as the working classes. Each colony there is a mixed profile whereas our thinking is of creating a Bawana where somebody has to travel 80 km to their work place. What is your vision of a city?

There is a place in Shadipur depot, Kathputli colony, which is DDA’s colony. They have already designed flats for them, but there was so much resistance even at the time of those flats being built. People don’t want to shift or don’t want to be disturbed. This has been going on for about five-six years. But there are others who would like to change, east Delhi has developed enormously. There has been a resistance, otherwise we were thinking of bringing in holding areas and  making the construction labour stay in these areas. Not in shanties that never get removed thereafter. However, this culture has not yet developed, I agree.

Do you also demand full statehood for Delhi? The BJP has been saying that they want full statehood, that the police, land and all civic agencies should be under one Delhi government.

I want it, yes. Apart from me, there have been various reports – the Balakrishnan report and the Vinay Prakash report. Both of them say that the Delhi police and the land should be under the Delhi government. But nobody takes this decision. I personally would say land use should be under us. The state should have the power to be able to plan or oblige the citizens. Then you have the police. I feel law and order and traffic should be with the Delhi government. But I don’t think we can take the responsibility of VIP security as a state government, since so many diplomats, politicians and bureaucrats live here. I’ll tell you about the multiplicity of law and order. You have the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) coming to a shop and saying close down the shutter, because it’s past the deadline. By the time he closes the shutter, the policemen come in and say shut the shop and you’ll have to pay something. That’s extortion. So, my point is, some places have duplicity. So we need to seriously have a relook at this. We’ve been passing so many resolutions in the Assembly, we’ve talked about it, studies have come out..

But you’ve had the Central government for nine years, I’m sure you could do something?

No, that’s not the issue. When Atal Bihariji’s government was there, we did that, they also did it. But then when it comes to amending the section in the Constitution that has created this state, I don’t think they want to give away rights over the land.

We’ve seen a lot of infighting in the Delhi Congress. There are constant reports that the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) and the government do not get along. Do you think this factionalism will hamper your chances in the elections?

I’m not giving an alibi. But is the BJP any less? Secondly, there are well-defined roles. If you are in government you have certain duties which you cannot equip the party to tip. And if the party does something, the government normally has the flexibility to take over because it is the state government. There are misunderstandings and some rumours going around, but I personally am not too worried about this. It’s a part of political life and if you think that factionalism is so important, then we wouldn’t have won all these elections. And every time we’ve had a different PCC president, it has been almost the same story.

In fact, this time around Rahul Gandhi said in a meeting with the PCC that ‘I’m not as soft as my mother.’ indicating that he was upset.

I think it was a good message. You see, what is the work of the government? To do work and carry out governance. And the work of the party which belongs to that government, is to propagate that work. That’s all he was saying. I myself said there that Sir, I know that there are problems of power or water, but there are also so many problems which have been overcome. Look at the roads – we have the best roads in the country, look at the buses, the metro, the greenery. Look at the school education – we are the best in the country where school education is concerned, look at the universities we have.

You said that your schemes benefit the girl child, but actually if you speak to anybody, the lady who cleans my house, they would spend an extra thousand rupees just to put the child in a private school rather than a government school.

But that is because there is that old feeling that ‘jo government ka school hai, wo kharaab hai’. Today, for the past three years, 0.1 per cent government schools are performing better than private schools. There is that psyche..when that goes away..

You’re saying 0.1 percent?

Like if we have 89 point something pass, then 89.1 is the pass percentage of the government schools. But it’s just that this is not sinking in.

Then there is the issue of water. I’m coming back to the working class because generally it’s the kind of era in which one is very impatient with the non white collar population of the country. But again, if you speak to anyone, your drivers, maids, there is no drinking water. They are spending close to Rs 3,000 out of Rs 10,000 buying drinking water.

The system is bad, but we have improved a lot. If we had not improved, we would have not been able to feel the additional five lakh every year. If you take about 15 years, 5 lakhs multiplied by 15, you could find out. And we were producing 680 million gallon, today we are producing 890 million gallons. There are leakages, seepages and wastage above all. So we keep saying, please don’t waste, please don’t do anything which will make water run out or get wasted. These are cultural and thinking changes that will take some time, but we will come around. I’m sure of that.

There are issues of wastage and of distributive justice, but you are a very popular chief minister and have a standing within your own party. The issues of land, police and say the Yamuna, which really should have been the lifeline of this city, why haven’t we heard you raise the volume on these issues?

I’ve raised them often, we’ve discussed it in the Assembly, I’ve written many letters. But I feel that the Central government, no matter which party, is not keen to give Delhi the kind of powers it gives the other states because it feels that it is the capital and therefore it must have a say over everything. I mean that’s what I understand. But I’ve done work inspite of these constraints.

Do think that in these forthcoming elections, the corruption charges on the Central government will have an impact on the Congress party’s performance?

No, I am not too sure about that and I’ll tell you why. The Delhi voter is a discerning voter. They know that the corruption charges were not on the Delhi government. They know there is a municipality, a state government or territory government and a Central government. I don’t think they mix up these things.

We’ve seen a lot of social movements, starting from the Anna Hazare movement, which have found resonance in Delhi and were not successful in any other place, even in Mumbai. So is that anger directed against you? We have seen so many protests happening outside your house, the Aam admi party also got involved..

Can you tell me why? Kyunki yahan par camerawale aa jate hai. If there are 10 people outside, from the Anna Hazare or Kejriwal camp, there are 50 cameras covering it. Nobody takes the camera to any other part of the country, I am sorry to say. Please do forgive me if I am hurting anyone, but the fact of the matter is that if you look at all the newspapers, magazines published from here, the television channels, are all very Delhi centric. But we are used to this.

In the December 16 protest too, there were major protests..

I did what I could. But there are circumstances which are very difficult to face sometimes, which are also embarrassing for a government. But I don’t feel embarrassed because my conscious is clear – I don’t have the police with me. I was criticized and took up a kind of animosity. But I was the only one who said it’s not enough to remove a couple of lower level officers. I mean, a strong action should be taken, a strong message should go out. I was the only one who went to that area where all the protestors were sitting at Jantar Mantar. There were a lot of Kejriwal people, but I said never mind, I’ve come to pay my respects to a person who has died under very sad and horrendous circumstances.

You mentioned about buses, the metro ofcourse is a huge feather in your cap, but in terms of buses, there isn’t really that great a network of buses or a huge amplification of buses..

Ofcourse there is. Did you ever think of air-conditioned or low floor buses here? When there were 2000 buses before, today there are 6000-7000 buses.

But whether the CCTV is working or not, doesn’t that fall under your jurisdiction?

Ofcourse it does. You see there are two companies, Leyland and Tata that make buses. Others are too expensive so government systems won’t allow that. It’s easy to say that the government is bad or incompetent. But there are many companies which are also equally incompetent; some of the buses have caught fire. So my point is, we try our best and I hope that this is good enough. Yes, we are answerable, and will know what the people think during the election.

Kejriwal has decided to contest against you. Do you think he’s doing it for publicity or..?

I really don’t know. They started out by saying they are fighting against corruption and had nothing to do with politics. Eventually they formed a political party, they are announcing candidates now. Let’s see what happens.

How do you see this constant run in with the Lokayukta?

I’m going to be frank with you. The BJP went and said that I had spent money. They took a case of 2008-2009 and said that we misused government funds for propagating our elections. This is totally wrong, because there is a period when the Election Commission takes over and there is nothing we can do in the government. Even if I or anybody else uses one car during the period of the elections code of conduct, we would be debarred. The Election Commission never said anything. Just to make some sort of political noise or to get some political gain out of it.. it’s totally, totally, totally wrong.

Just to come back briefly to the Yamuna, do you actually have any jurisdiction over the Yamuna Action Plan?

No, nobody has jurisdiction on the Yamuna. Japan has given a lot of funds. The Yamuna flows through a lot of states like Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, so who is to take on what? A lot of the sludge that we get here belongs to Haryana, then UP says a lot of the sludge they get belongs to Delhi and Haryana. I personally feel that we should have a total policy on all the rivers. Yamuna is a real crisis staring us in the face. We started interceptors, where before water goes into the Yamuna, it is cleaned up by three interceptors from the three canals of Shahdara, Najafgarh and Supplementary. That will make some difference. But I think it has to be a collective policy. I think rivers have to be taken as a national concern.

As a senior Congress leader, how do you read the kind of disenchantment that has set in with the UPA?    

I want to know which is the party on which disenchantment is not there. We are going through a phase in the whole country where to recognise or accept something good is not the done thing. It’s a phase and I feel we’ll come out of it.

In your own party, do you think Rahul should now play a more proactive role or be portrayed as a prime ministerial candidate?

I think he should take a proactive role too. I don’t say what he should be portrayed as, but he is taking a lot of interest. He should take more visible interest, that’s what the people and the party is looking for. He is doing a lot of hard work, I won’t deny that. About the prime ministerial candidate, I mean, I want to ask you, campaign committee ke chairman banaye gaye Modi sahib, prime minister ban gaye? Kya baat kar rahe ho? Pehle aap jeet lijiyega, phir baniye. 

Being the prime minister is a different thing, but to just be the face of the party..

The face of the party is there, we are not in a hurry. After all Manmohan Singh is not the face of the party. He’s been a prime minister and a very good prime minister. See this country has progressed because of the policies..

But a genuine criticism of the UPA now, is this division of power. Sonia has been a party leader but certainly this division of power has created a rift in policy making. It’s eroded the prime ministerial chair, would you accept that? You yourself suffer from a division of power in your own government, between so many agencies and yourself.

Then one learns work within the constraints that you have. If I know that land is not with me, doesn’t mean I don’t make colleges, doesn’t mean I don’t make hospitals. From 19 hospitals today I’ve made 43. There are constraints all the time. But I want you ask you one little question. You see, it’s the mood of the people, the performance. What happened in Karnataka? Mr Modi went there..

Karnataka has a more complex..

But agar aisa magic wand chalta hai, toh phir woh sab jagah chalna chahiye? Agar main kahoon ki main Dilli jeet chuki hu teen dafa, isliye main PM ban jau.. aisa nahi hota..

One other dilemma for the Congress is that slowly the federal nature of Indian politics is asserting itself more and more. Quite often a lot of the BJP’s chief ministers in the states are big leaders in their own right and they are running fairly well governed states. But the Congress still works with the old idea of not promoting big faces in the states?

Prithviraj Chavan is there.. he is a leader. Hopefully, the new Karnataka chief minister will be good leader. Kerela has got Oommen Chandy. And afterall Antony and Chidambaram have come from states only..

You said the public mood is to focus on negatives rather than positives. Do you think there is a sort of new politics required in the country, a real desire for transparency, accountability, responsiveness?

I don’t think a nation which is in a negative mood can progress. It has to be positive. You have ups and downs. But once we are responsible for governance of a country, we need to make it more positive. Wonderful things are happening that nobody seems to be taking about.

So list five of these wonderful things at the national level?

We have progressed well economically. We never thought of the kind of job opportunities or growth opportunities that are there. Agriculture has improved enormously, with good crops. Lots of innovation has taken place in our universities. You see wonderful students. I think the right to education is beginning to have its impact. So these are good things. You asked me to name five, I can give you ten more..

I don’t think you can count Indian universities as a triumphant story, they are in a terrible condition. You have to get 100 percent to get into Delhi university colleges, the secondary colleges that have come up are very abysmal. Graduates that are coming out from these universities are unemployable. The quality of education is abysmal.

No, there is no magic wand which is going to give you the 500 best universities. How many did Britain have? Two or three, London School of Economics, Cambridge and Oxford. How many do you have in America? Look at the Delhi university, the Calcutta university..

These are imperial, British raj universities. What has come up after the Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai universities?

Pune is good. Yes, some universities have gone down, I don’t say that one can sit down and say we’ve done it all. There is a lot to do, but to be done with a positive attitude. We cannot do it by saying we are the worst in the world. Somebody was telling me that our students used to go abroad, but now they want to stay here.

That’s because of the jobs that have dried up abroad.

That’s it!

Do you have any aspirations at the Central level or you happy being in Delhi.

See, I am happy with whatever I have. If you ask me to sweep this room, I’ll be happy. If you ask me to live in a palace and sweep, then I’ll be happy to do that as well. The thing is that you have to enjoy what you are doing and be committed to it.

Sometime back there was a lot of noise that you would be made the Home minister, you had met the Congress president too.

Noise doesn’t always mean action.

4 Comments

  • ashok June 14, 2013 - 11:19 pm Reply

    Easily the best Congress CM in the country.

  • Iyaz khan June 17, 2013 - 1:00 am Reply

    We muslims dont care even if the govt is corrupted. We want them to be secular. Even though congress has killed many muslims in Assam and sikhs in Amritsar, they have killed less than the BJP.

  • Veer Bharat June 21, 2013 - 1:39 pm Reply

    Is it same as congress is looting India from last 65 years, and BJP is fooling us from last 20 years. then they have right to rule us.
    Congi are corrupt,criminals,VIP and looters of country.

  • Nik June 27, 2013 - 1:46 pm Reply

    @ Sheila Dixit If you are in Congress and even if you win Delhi 5 times, you won’t become the PM as its dynastic politics and only a ‘Gandhi’ will chose who will become PM… one who has no voice of his own…

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