New Delhi: Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit says her government’s 10 years of “scandal free” rule will ensure the Congress party’s victory in the 29 November elections. Dikshit regrets terror attacks and the capital-state’s rising crime graph, but expresses helplessness as the Delhi Police does not report to her, but to the Union home ministry. She says that the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has no concrete ideas for the development of the city and dismisses the growing influence of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as hype. While saying she is hesitant to trumpet her achievements, the longest-serving chief minister of the city dwells at length on her government’s initiatives in an interview. Edited excerpts:
What will your unique selling proposition be when you step up your campaign?
We would like to think there is pro-incumbency (in Delhi). People feel that this is a government that has performed for the past 10 years. We have taken some bold steps such as power privatization... We now have over 130,000 vehicles running on compressed natural gas (CNG). We have made Delhi green, despite all the construction happening here. We have increased green cover in the city to 20% from 2% 10 years ago. We implemented the Delhi Metro plan which was lying in the files for the past 20-30 years. We brought it here...it is there for everybody to see. We also gave legal acceptance to unauthorized colonies.
Will the key element of your campaign be development? The BJP, which fought the 2004 (parliamentary) elections on a development plank, lost. Does that worry you?
I don’t underestimate the voters of India. I feel rather hesitant to trumpet what we have done. I think it is there for everybody to see. If we have built two schools every month...if we have made the number of hospitals from 17 to 45...if we have brought in new buses, it is there for everybody to see. Over the past eight years we have brought in 4,000,000 people into the Bhagidari scheme (a citizen-government partnership) where departments interact with people.
Spotless record? Delhi’s chief minister says her government didn’t have a single scandal in 10 years. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
If we have improved the water supply system from 570 million gallons to 880 today, it is there for all to see. I remember, till year before last, every summer there would be photographs in newspapers of tankers supplying water. There have been no such photographs last summer. We are going to have 6,000MW of power by 2012... We added 350MW of power through the Pragati power plant in Delhi.
For all the development that you claim, are you worried that the sealing issue (the move against illegal construction and commercial activities in residential areas) may cost you politically?
The sealing was something that was done under court orders. There were some corrections that needed to be done considering that population-wise it is a demanding city. We suffered (on account of sealing). The Delhi government had nothing to do with it. Neither the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, nor Delhi Development Authority is under the state government.
Do you think this message has been communicated to the people?
We have tried to. A political party (BJP) did take it on as an issue and put the blame on us. It is a misconception, which we were unable to dispel because we were constrained. We could not come out with any statement that would be (seen as) defiance of court.
There is no sealing now...we are a government without a single scandal in 10 years. Our political rivals have tried...but we genuinely worked honestly. We are honest and one reason it comes through is Bhagirdari. Goa and Delhi were among the first states to come under the Right to Information Act.
There are national issues such as inflation, terror and stock meltdown and it is the middle class which is the hardest hit. Since the middle class is a constituency for you, do you see political damage on this count?
It is certainly a feeling which gives you a low. But please remember that it is the same government at the Centre that has increased pay packet for Central government employees by 21% and went for the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement. Yes, we are going through a bad period. The whole world is going through a bad period. It does affect people. But even there the blow has been softened. Everybody knows life is not just one roller coaster.
But the Opposition has made these the key election issues.
The Opposition has said so many things. At a TV show my BJP counterpart (Vijay Kumar Malhotra) said: “I am going to make 50 colleges, 50,000 hospital beds.” I wish the Opposition would come out with some better ideas.
The BJP has been consistently talking about terror.
What about terror in states that it rules in? What happened in Gujarat, what happened in Rajasthan, in Karnataka and what happened to Christians in Orissa? These are national issues. I firmly believe and emphasize that these are matters that affect the integrity and unity of the country. Let’s put our heads together and see what we can do to stop it instead of blaming each other.
The Batla House encounter brought to the fore where each party stood on terror. While the BJP and BSP have a clear stance, the Congress seems to be confused.
When they (BJP) were in power (at the Centre), they put a terrorist on a flight and escorted him out (of India). Did they have an inquiry? I don’t think issues of national integrity or honour need to be politicized. We have had 10 years of rule without any communal violence.
Urban infrastructure is one of the key issues. If you are re-elected, what are your plans for infrastructure development, especially housing?
Housing is a key concern. It is a priority. We don’t want proliferation?of?jhuggis?(slums). We have started the Rajiv Ratan Awas Yojana (a housing development scheme) under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
We are building 14,000 homes. We received about 300,000 applications from homeless squatters...they (the houses) cost about Rs2.15 lakh (each). These houses have two bedrooms, a kitchen, a courtyard and garden.
Rs1.25 lakh will come from the JNNURM and Rs65,000 from the government. For, the rest we have tied up with banks to give loans that can be paid over 20 years. I dream of building at least 400,000 such homes in the next four or five years. We are very heavily constrained by land. We don’t own much and have to buy land.
What has been the one allegation or issue that has hurt you the most in 10 years?
It hurts sometimes very badly when you are accused without reason. Everybody has ambitions and ambitions turn into dissidence sometimes. It is very hurtful but I have immersed myself in work.
People say you were insensitive while commenting on the murder of TV journalist Soumya Viswanathan.
I wasn’t insensitive. How can a woman be insensitive? I have a daughter, two sisters, granddaughters...maybe it wasn’t the correct word...but you know how the TV channels are. They put a mike in front of you and you react. I was extremely sorry and I said I was. I immediately took a meeting on the issue and found that there is a law that after 7pm, any (female) employee who has to go home, has to be escorted. I sent out notices to everybody saying please remember that this law exists. But like everybody else I was also surprised that a young girl was driving by herself at three in the morning. (Dikshit was criticized for saying that “one should not be adventurous”.)
You have consistently been attacked for rising crime in Delhi. Who is to blame?
I wish I could answer this. I do not have the police under me. If you ask me today to transfer somebody because he is inefficient, I can’t do it. The police is under the Union home ministry.
BSP is contesting very actively in Delhi. Are they going to play a spoiler for your party?
What is its programme? I have no idea. Except putting up candidates. I think the BSP hype is being managed by the BJP. Let us see. What is that the BSP wants to do? ...And this has been happening since 1998 in many of our assembly constituencies... What do they plan to do for Delhi?
BSP says your development model is mainly for the middle class.
Not at all. Over 50% of our plan is meant for the social sector. Our utilization of plan funds stands at 98%. It is not just that we are building flyovers. We are looking after the poor, too. Pension to an old person has gone up from Rs200 to Rs1,000 during my tenure. We have also stressed on the education of the girl child.
This election is going to see a large number of first-time voters. What is your message for them?
Young people want education and good jobs. People would not come to Delhi if there was unemployment here. Have you ever seen a senior bureaucrat or a middle class person (who after coming to Delhi), returning home early? Young people want peace and amity. They certainly are not interested in communal politics. I am absolutely sure about that.