Sheila Dikshit, former Mayor of Delphi

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Sheila Dikshit
former mayor of Delhi, India

By Andrew Stevens

1 October 2009: The city of Delhi is the world’s eighth largest metropolis and is led by Sheila Dikshit. Born in 1938, Dikshit (sometimes Dixit) was educated at Delhi's Convent of Jesus and Mary and the city's Miranda House College, before obtaining a masters degree from the Delhi University. Regarded as close to the Ghandi family, she has a reputation as an avowed secularist and critic of communalism. The mayor was shortlisted for the 2008 World Mayor Award.

Between 1984 and 1989, Dikshit was India's representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Following this she was elected to the lower house of the Indian Parliament (the Lok Sabha) for the Congress Party, where she represented the Kannauj constituency of Uttar Pradesh (1984-1989). During this time she sat on the house estimates committee and chaired the fortieth anniversary since independence celebrations committee, as well as twice serving as a minister, first as minister of state for parliamentary affairs and then in the Prime Minister's Office.

Since 1993, the city of Delhi has been specially organised as the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT), a state-level entity within India's federal system. In 1998 she was elected by members of the NCT assembly as Chief Minister of Delhi, the second woman to hold the post. She received a second five year term in 2003, the first Chief Minister in the country to do so, notable given the anti-Congress vote elsewhere in the elections. The Congress Party has traditionally been strong in the city, aside from a brief period of Bharatiya Janata Party rule in the mid-1990s, though in recent elections to the lower-tier Delhi municipality the opposition has gained strength and was thought likely to turf Congress out in the December 2008 elections for the NCT. However, Dikshit confounded critics and opponents when she was re-elected for an unheard of third term as chief minister.

Dikshit’s decade in power has been marked by an expansion of public transport, including metro rail and natural gas-powered buses, public healthcare, education and sanitation. It is said that her popularity derives as much from her materteral (or ‘aunty-like’) image as her ability to get things done, with tangible improvements to the cityscape present for all to see. Sheila Dikshit is widowed, with two children.

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