New Delhi: As tensions rise once again between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the BJP, three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit recalls her “excellent relationship” she enjoyed with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Vajpayee-led BJP government was in power at the Centre when Dikshit took over as Delhi CM for the first time.
In 1998, Sheila Dikshit unseated Sushma Swaraj to become the second woman to head the state of Delhi. In contrast to the AAP, which claims that its work has been hindered by a vindictive central government, Dikshit in an exclusive interview to News18 said she enjoyed a cordial working relationship with the then ruling party.
“It (the relationship) was excellent. It was as great as my working relationship with any Prime Minister,” she said.
Dikshit said she chose a conciliatory approach because it was ultimately she, the CM, who would have to answer to the people. “Please remember, Delhi is not a full state. It has to go to the central government for practically anything. For the people of Delhi, though, this (Chief Minister) is the face of Delhi Government. They don’t care that you have to keep going to the Centre. For them, you (The CM) are responsible.”
She also appreciated “magnanimous, large-hearted” Prime Minister Vajpayee and said she was proud of all they had managed to accomplish together. “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.”
However, it wasn’t always a yes from the then Prime Minister. “I didn’t always get what I wanted. Sometimes, I went with ten demands but got eight things. Sometimes I got only five. But the relationship was not one of conflicts like the current relationship between the CM and PM,” she said.
When asked if this meant there were no conflicts at all between her and Vajpayee, she said, “No, there wasn’t. Not at all. He (Vajpayee) 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 live here.”
In fact, she said, the warmth in relations was not just limited to Vajpayee. Former Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister LK Advani, too, would help her get work done, she said. She recalled an incident from 1998, just days after she stepped into office when Advani asked her if she wanted to continue working with a BJP-appointed bureaucrat.
“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,” Dikshit told News18.