Delhi bid adieu to the 81-year-old former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Sunday as she was cremated with full state honours at the Nigam Bodh Ghat. Dikshit, a Congress veteran, had died on Saturday due to a cardiac arrest.
Cutting across the party lines and ignoring sudden downpour and gusty winds, everyone gathered for her last journey — those she worked alongside, colleagues, Congress workers, leaders from the opposition parties and admirers. From the upper echelons of the Congress to the BJP’s top leadership to state parties, almost everyone was present at the funeral.
As the casket carrying her mortal remains moved from her house to the party headquarters for the final journey, many party workers shouted slogans like “Jab tak suraj chand rahega Sheilaji ka naam rahega (Sheila ji’s name shall remain till eternity)”.
Top Congress leaders, including UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, were present at the funeral.
Besides, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia and Delhi Home Minister Satyendar Jain were among those who attended the last rites.
A large number of party workers had gathered at the site despite torrential rains.
Harish Singh (56), a Congress worker who claimed he had worked with her during the 2003 Delhi Assembly elections said, “She was Delhi. She is Delhi. What you see in the capital, it was all done by her. It was her guidance. To cite a small example, look at the RWAs and the importance they have in basic governance. That was her doing.”
Earlier, paying homage to Dikshit, Sonia Gandhi said the three-time chief minister of Delhi was a friend and like an elder sister to her. Her demise was a big loss to the Congress party, she said.
BJP patriarch LK Advani and former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj also visited Dikshit’s residence and paid tributes to her.
Dikshit’s body was taken to the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) office before the funeral. It was here that Dikshit had galvanized the Congress, leading the party’s state unit, stitching together a powerful political force that would defeat the BJP in 1998.
Afterwards, her body was taken to the AICC headquarters at Akbar Road where top party leaders including Manmohan Singh, chief ministers Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath paid their respects before heading to the Nigam Bodh Ghat for the cremation. The cremation was conducted using the CNG method that was installed at the ghat during her tenure as the Delhi CM.
According to a Delhi Congress official, Dikshit was here till the very last day. “She was planning, motivating workers and looking ahead. She never stopped fighting. That is something that people, perhaps, don’t realise about her. She might have been soft-spoken, but she was a fighter,” he said.
Recalling her interaction, Dikshit’s friend Anastasia Gill, former Delhi Minority Commission member said she will remember the Congress leader for her strong character and determination.
“Sheila treated everyone equally and it was her determination that she could fight back the allegations of corruption during her third term as chief minister,” Gill said.
Congress worker Virender Kumar Chaudhary, who is physically challenged, recollected his visit to Dikshit four days ago.
He reminisced how Dikshit ensured cycles for the physically challenged and her assistance in securing admission for his daughter at a college in 2008.
After announcing that the Delhi government would host a state funeral for her, Kejriwal wrote, “Only last month I had met her for nearly an hour when she came with her party’s delegation to submit a memorandum on several issues. At the end of the meeting, I wished her good health, not knowing that this would be my last meeting with her.”
Sonia Gandhi, in her letter to Dikshit’s son Sandeep, talked about the vacuum that was created by her death. She wrote, “She worked with such vision and dedication to transform Delhi, to make it a much better place to live in for all its citizens, including the poorest, and that tremendous achievement remains her lasting legacy.”
As the longest-serving woman chief minister who steered her party to victory for three consecutive terms in 1998, 2003 and 2008, Dikshit ushered in an era of all-round development that transformed Delhi into a world-class capital.
She also initiated green reforms in the public transport sector successfully accomplishing the shift from polluting vehicles to a CNG based fleet.