-Tectonic Plate Shifted Underneath
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She was quick to take credit for the city’s achievements, her critics alleged, but passed on the blame for everything that went wrong.
In times of crisis, Dixit gave off the impression of someone who was failing to lead. Evidence also suggests that Ms. Dixit’s govt began to stagnate in her third term. Governance became incremental rather than imaginative. More flyovers were built and a further expansion of the subway system was undertaken, but unlike Ms. Dixit’s first two terms, her government offered few big-ticket ideas.
Delhi’s infrastructural upsurge remained skewed toward the affluent and middle-class areas of the city.
In Delhi’s unplanned neighborhoods, where the majority of the city’s residents live, elementary problems of water, sanitation and electricity remained. A citizen commuting on the city’s world-class subway system was still likely to live in a neighborhood without proper drainage. These contradictions gave rise to a new kind of discontent, and Dixit, much like the national government, seemed unable to respond to this new and heightened aspiration.
Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party masterfully tapped into this sentiment, by fashioning themselves as proverbial outsiders. Like their potential voters, Kejriwal and the AAP portrayed themselves as distant and marginalized from the networks of power.
Pitted against Kejriwal’s everyman act, Ms. Dixit had few answers. For 15 years, Ms. Dixit had cultivated the public image of a maternal, caring, almost benign presence. But she remained a canny, smooth and sometimes ruthless operator, sidelining several senior leaders of her own party in order to keep Delhi’s top job. In a city of political intrigues,
considered by many to be a minefield, Ms.
Dixit had survived and
But in a climate of almost unprecedented revulsion towards the Congress Party, Ms. Dixit seemed unable to stem the tide.Over
the last weeks of the election campaign, as opposition parties ran an aggressive
campaign, Ms. Dixit
uncharacteristically began losing her composure in public.
Days before the campaign, Ms. Dixit dismissed Mr. Kejriwal as “one man from
Ghaziabad,” a suburb bordering Delhi. She mocked the AAP too.
“Is it a party?” Ms.
Her efforts to lampoon the AAP made her seem aloof, and in a city where the ordinary citizen increasingly resents the privileges of the political elite, Mr.
Kejriwal communicated a potent and — as Ms. Dixit learned on Sunday evening — devastating message.
Of the 28 seats won by the AAP in last week’s election, 16 had been wrested from the Congress Party. Ms. Dixit and nearly all her ministers lost to the AAP. It is hard to find a parallel in recent Indian electoral history when all the luminaries of a governing party have been so peremptorily
If politicians’ faces ever tell a story, none did so more than Ms. Dixit’s on the evening Delhi went to the polls on Dec 4th. Her district of New Delhi saw voter turnout rise by nearly 10 percentage points from the previous election, normally a bad sign for the incumbent.
When quizzed by the press, Ms. Dixit appeared churlish, and her combativeness seemed unusual for a seasoned politician.
“Who is Kejriwal?” she asked sarcastically. Four days later, when the results were
announced, the answer was not to her liking.
It was a humiliating, and embarrassing, exit for a politician who may have deserved better. It is likely that once the fevered verdicts of the present recede, history may judge Dixit, the longest-serving woman chief minister of an Indian state, more kindly.
In many ways, Ms. Dixit was a singular and unique politician who wrought an urban transformation with few parallels in modern India.
Had she chosen to retire voluntarily at the end of her third term, Ms. Dixit would have been universally lauded for adroitly steering the city through a time of rapid transition.
But in the end, Ms. Dixit was felled by the malaise common to many other political leaders in India: the desire to cling onto power for too long and a reluctance to recognize that her time was up.