News Nation journalist Raghwendra Shukla with former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit at her residence in Delhi.
It was May 1, 2019, and I was frantically dialing former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s assistant, called him thrice, but efforts were in vain. It was already 10:30 am and I was supposed to reach Dikshit’s residence in half-an-hour for the scheduled interview. I had tried hard to fix the interview as Delhi was going to the polls in less than two weeks and Dikshit, who was fielded by the grand old party from North East Delhi Lok Sabha, was busy in campaigning in not only her parliamentary constituency but for other party candidates also. She was contesting a general election after a gap of two decades, and, therefore, was leaving no stone unturned to win a seat for her party, which performed poorly in the last Lok Sabha elections.
Finally, my call was answered, and I was told to come at the earliest as madam (Dikshit) was leaving for a meeting with local party leaders of her constituency. I tried my best, but it was not one of my good days and by the time I reached her residence in Nizamuddin, she had left for the meeting. But I was told by her assistant that she will be back in less than an hour and either I can wait or come again around 12 pm.
I decided to wait at her residence, which was apparently converted into an office to look after the election preparations. I thought it was a good opportunity to interact with her party workers there. They told me that the office was shifted to her residence considering her health issues.
After 45 minutes of waiting, I got to know that she was retuning home. I was sitting on a sofa close to the entrance of the hall, and as soon as she entered, her assistant introduced me and explained in one breath that I was waiting for her for an hour. “Extremely sorry that you had to wait, have been keeping very busy with campaigning,” she said with a smile.
And then we began our formal interview. I asked questions on a range of issues and she answered each and every question in detail. She looked very energetic and confident about her victory. Several party workers were waiting for her, but she was in no hurry. She talked in length about how she dreamed about making the national capital the best city in the country when she was in power. “I want to bring the shine of Delhi back and that is why I am contesting this election,” she added.
After the formal interview, I told her that this was my second meeting with her, with the first being in 2013 when she was the chief minister. The veteran Congress leader was finding it difficult to recall that meeting but when I showed her the story, her expression changed and she quickly said, “Yes, of course, I remember this.”
“I am happy that you came again,” she told me.
To listen to such words from one of the tallest politicians of her time is no less than an award. I also asked her how she was keeping with her health at an age of 81 years. To which she replied very politely: “I am campaigning almost every day just like others.”
She was like a mentor for many and a mother for some in the Congress party. Despite being considered closed to the first family of the Congress, she always considered herself a foot soldier.
I still have the recording of that interview, and one can easily gauge the level of her energy by listening to that. I will always keep the audio of such a selfless leader safe with me because it was once in a lifetime experience to interact with such a great politician.