Sheila Dikshit ki bewaqoofi: The fall of the Lutyens regime

Bewakoof hain na hum," snapped a weary Sheila Dikshit when asked if she underestimated the Aam Aadmi Party. The quote unwittingly summed up the cluelessness of Delhi's political elite of which Dikshit was a leading light. More than the Congress party's decimated numbers, it is the former Chief Minister's personal fate that tells the bigger story.

In the months leading up to the election, Dikshit dismissed Arvind Kejriwal with typical upper class condescension. “My reaction to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is nothing,” she told Tehelka, “Absolutely nothing.” It was the kind of hauteur only a politician of Dikshit's pedigree could summon. The daughter-in-law of Uma Shanker Dikshit, who was brought into politics by Rajiv Gandhi and kept close at hand by Sonia, was a card-carrying member of the Lutyen's elite. And in a city that worships privilege, she was its citizen number one.

 Sheila Dikshit ki bewaqoofi: The fall of the Lutyens regime

The daughter-in-law of Uma Shanker Dikshit, who was brought into politics by Rajiv Gandhi and kept close at hand by Sonia, was a card-carrying member of the Lutyen's elite. And in a city that worships privilege, she was its citizen number one. AFP

"Mrs Sheila Dikshit is far more difficult to defeat than her party, Congress, because she is still the person every Delhiwallah would be happy to welcome home as a guest, and then brag about it," wrote MJ Akbar in the Times of India. And yet defeated she was because the average Delhite-- including the residents of elite New Delhi constituency -- has changed.

Middle class Delhites are no longer impressed by a politician's 'convent' accent, or her understated polish of class. Age-old infatuation with status has given way to impatience, even resentment. As with the Gandhis, 'elite' in politics reads increasingly as out-of-touch, and can be more easily be interpreted as downright callous. When she loftily refused to take responsibility for law and order in the wake of the Delhi gang-rape, saying “My own daughter is unsafe," Dikshit's insincerity enraged all the average Delhiwallahs who live underfoot Delhi's lal-batti culture. Her bizarre passivity in the face of escalating prices confirmed the CM's image as LBZ's resident Marie Antionette. 'Let them ride the metro,' she seemed to say, anytime someone complained about bijli or pyaaz.

And it is Dikshit's bad luck that she landed as a rival the one man who would underline her privilege. Everything about Arvind Kejriwal — from his Amol Palekar demeanor to the name of his party to its lowly jhaadu symbol — screamed plebeian with a capital P. In contrast, he made Dikshit look less unfussy librarian and more Lutyen matriarch. Her refusal to engage with him read not as a dismissal of AAP but of the aam aadmis and aurats he represented.

Worse, Dikshit was also betrayed by her own; her fellow upper class liberals who preferred the genuine populism of a Kejriwal to the jaded Congress-style rhetoric of noblesse oblige. Hence her shocking defeat in the heart of Delhi's most expensive real estate. It is the Congress loyalists who deserted Dikshit, and proved her and her party's undoing -- even as most BJP supporters stayed true to their own. BJP's wise last-minute decision to change horses, and bet on the modest Doctor saab, likely saved them from losing ground to Kejriwal. A compromised, old style politician like Vijay Goel would have guaranteed an AAP victory.

Talking heads on TV may natter on about the return of the Sonia coterie, but the real message from Delhi is that durbar-style politics and all those associated with it are now in great peril. In 'new' India, entrenched privilege in Indian politics can still be an advantage, but the right opponent can just as easily transform it into a fatal weakness. We no longer want a leader who can "give adequate voice to man on street," as Rahul Gandhi seems to believe. We much prefer a leader who is the man on the street. Kejriwal taught Sheila Dixit that bitter lesson on Sunday. No doubt, Narendra Modi is looking forward to doing the same in 2014. As he well knows, there is no one better equipped to bring down India's ruling dynasty than a former chaiwala.

Updated Date: Dec 09, 2013 07:32:46 IST