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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 December 2006, 12:12 GMT
Sheila Dixit: Unlikely politician
The BBC's Hindi Service is running a series of interviews to discover the unknown side of India's newsmakers. Here, the service's India editor Sanjeev Srivastava talks to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.


Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit
Sheila Dixit has a squeaky clean image

She does not fit the stereotype image of an Indian politician.

She is frank, quite uncomplicated and educated.

She is also easy to talk to and unlike most people of her tribe does not come across as devious, calculating or corrupt.

She is also seen by many in India's capital city, Delhi, as an agent of positive change and it is widely accepted that she is the person who has helped make Delhi a much less polluted and liveable city in the last few years.

Little wonder then that the Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit, is equally popular amongst the masses as well as the intellectual elite of the city.

I must confess I have always been a little intrigued by her persona.

How can someone be in politics and still manage to retain this image of not being interested in power?

Above politics?

How is it that her reputation and name has never been associated with the dirty underbelly of Indian politics, which is as much about money and muscle power as it is about popularity?

I always thought Sheila Dixit's squeaky clean image could be attributed to a craftily-woven, elaborate farce - the result of a successful public relations exercise which has given her this image of being "above politics" even as she does everything other Indian politicians do to remain in power.

So I was looking forward to meeting her to try to have a peep into her personality and find out for myself whether she was really the puritan her spin doctors would like us to believe.

The interview and the meeting did not really give me the answer.

If anything, I am even more intrigued.

Dixit and Sonia Gandhi
Dixit, right, with Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi

But one thing is definite - Sheila Dixit is one of India's most candid politicians.

She spoke freely about her zest for life, her love for music, films, family - and her passion for public life.

Who else but Sheila Dixit would admit that her strongest desire in life was to sit behind the wheel of a big car one day and drive at the speed of 120mph (193km/h) in Delhi.

"It should feel like I am in an aircraft and not on the road," she says.

Self-respect

Most Indian politicians would think that showing any interest in cars and speed would be politically incorrect.

They would rather talk about the plight of the farmers and the poor.

Again in the Congress Party where swearing undying loyalty to its president, Sonia Gandhi, is an unwritten code, the Delhi chief minister shows some sense of self-respect.

In response to a question about what she would say to those who believed that her position was entirely because of the blessings of Mrs Gandhi, she said some credit should also go to her and her ability to run a government.

That is one courageous act if one understands how the Congress Party functions.

This one statement alone can create sufficient trouble for her and can be used by her rivals within the Congress to paint her as a "defiant rebel".

Her interest in films and music is really varied.

From classical to pop, from Indian to Western - she loves it all.

"When I was young I did use to sing. But now I am content listening to good music. There is some music (FM radio) playing in my bedroom all through the night, so that whenever I get up, I wake up to the sound of music."

That sounds like a romantic at heart.

"Yes, I am," she admits.

Big crush

Ms Dixit also loves movies - and is quite keen to see the ones she likes more than once.

"I was a big fan of Dev Anand, often referred to as the Gregory Peck of India. Some of his films - like Guide and Jewel Thief - I saw 10 times. Like many other college girls of those days I, too, had a big crush on him."

So who is her latest crush?

"I am no longer in the age for having crushes. But these days I like Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan. They are very good actors."

She spoke in some detail about her love for good clothes, college life, and her elaborate courtship with the man she later married and the troubles the young couple in love faced.

"We used to go on long drives, watch movies together and spend a lot of time in college canteens. In the classroom too, a lot of our time was spent playing knots and crosses."

But it was not easy.

"My mother-in-law was against our marriage because I was not an upper-caste Brahmin like them. They were also worried that an educated modern girl might find it difficult to adjust in a conservative Brahmin family. Then it was believed by many that girls from our college [Delhi-based Miranda College] were too modern and spoilt.

Dev Anand
In college, Dixit had a big crush on actor Dev Anand

"So we had to wait for four years to get married. And I still remember writing to my father soon after the marriage that because of the restrictions placed on my movement and the way I dressed, I felt that I had come to a jail."

'Nervous'

But it all ended well for her. "After our marriage my in-laws did not stay with us for 2-3 years but once they came, they never went back."

Her father-in-law, Uma Shanker Dixit, was one of the stalwarts of the Congress Party - even the party president at one time.

She joined politics after her husband's death in the early 1980s.

"That was soon after Indira Gandhi's assassination. Rajiv Gandhi asked me to join politics. I hardly knew anything about elections and speeches," she says.

"The first speech I made my legs and hands were all shaking. I was so nervous. I won the election but was so na´ve that I did not know what to do next. Even today I am in politics but I don't really understand the tricks of it," she says and then adds, "Neither am I interested."

So should we believe her?

No, would be my answer.

It is difficult to survive in the cut-throat world of Indian politics with such innocence.

Cunning, intrigue and marginalising rivals is a game I believe she is adept at.

But the good thing about her perhaps is that she has still retained her warmth and zest for life.

And that is what makes Sheila Dixit different.

Audiences across Delhi and Mumbai can listen to the full interview at 1200 IST on Radio One FM 94.3 or in a BBC Hindi Service shortwave radio broadcast at 2000 IST on Sunday. It can also be found via bbchindi.com. The programme is called Ek Mulaqat


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