Sandeep Dikhsit, 49, is a Congress MP from East Delhi constituency from where he will be seeking re-election for the 16th Lok Sabha. He has also worked as deputy chief whip and chief whip. Before he joined politics, he headed a social development group. He hails from a political family. His mother Sheila Dikshit was the former chief minister of Delhi, and his grandfather Uma Shankar Dikshit was a freedom fighter closely associated with Jawaharlal Nehru.
You have been an MP for 10 odd years from East Delhi constituency. What are the achievements that you are proud of?
Ten years ago, East Delhi was considered the back of beyond of Delhi. We were suffering on many fronts. One was infrastructure. There were traffic jams, and our roads were not adequate to take both our traffic and the traffic coming in from UP, because it’s easy to access Uttar Pradesh and nearby areas from here. We got a lot of help from the Delhi government and the government of India. Our Pushta Road has become fantastic. National Highway 24 was redeveloped. We defused Canal Road, which eased traffic on Vikas Marg. The Anand Vihar ISBT was redeveloped. GT Road got its two flyovers at Shyam Lal College and at Dilshad Garden. And with the coming in of the second and third metro lines, we got fairly good connectivity.
Second, not every area had sewage connections, and therefore, they had sanitation and cleanliness issues. There were quite a few unauthorised colonies, that were facing severe problems, but over time all of them got their sewage connections and water pipelines. There were two principle areas remaining, Kondli and beyond, which is called the Kondli Project, and Okhla, Jamia Nagar, Batla House, and Shaheen Bagh. In both these areas, consultants were appointed because these were completely unauthorised belts and a lot of planning had to happen. In both areas, the sewage line is being laid down.
Third, our parks and greenery were pretty low. We couldn’t do anything with small parks because the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) controls that. But there were two to three large parks that we were interested in, Sanjay Park and Smriti Van. Both of them have fairly decent growth now. After requesting the Delhi government, along the UP canal which runs through Trilokpuri, the entire area was forested. So, we have a kind of a green belt there. Those have been some of the major achievements.
What about education?
The Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University has now come up at the Shahdara CBD. The interesting thing is, they are not just putting up an office there, but three professional colleges. And the East Delhi Delhi University’s campus is also coming up in the same place. Then we have the Maharaja Agrasen College, besides Shaheed Rajguru College there. So it’s been quite okay. But we have land issues, it’s very restricted and there’s not enough. We have a high population ratio, I think it’s about thrice as compared to the rest of Delhi. The only place where we have some land available for big infrastructure is between the Vikas Marg and Noida borders. But things are slowly coming up there as well, and we are keen that some breathing spaces in East Delhi remain.
One of the things we don’t actually end up talking about is the relationship between the MP and the local government, because if it’s a good relationship then there is a lot more work that can be done. You had the Congress, the UPA government for the last ten years and, of course, you had the Congress government 15 years in Delhi under your mother, Sheila Dikshit. Can you tell us about how that relationship can be effective?
Of course it can be. Let me give you the example of the Monorail. We heard that the Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation (DSIDC) and the Delhi government were keen on introducing the monorail as another alternative to mass rapid transport. They were looking for a working solution. So we met Raj KumarChauhanji, who was one of the people involved in this. We met Ramakant Goswami, and he said they were looking for good, viable options where the monorail can be a subsidy or a freebie input into amass rapid transport, because by itself the monorail may not be a very viable transport alternative.
Immediately we thought of the fact that we have three lines lying west to east in East Delhi. We had no south to north connection because we don’t have any major roads. Then, I thought of Patparganj Road, parts of Krishna Nagar going up to Trilokpuri, which is an excellent belt where the monorail could be connected. We met them, I took the ministers there, we spoke to the CM. They were keen to get it done. We were keen to get it done. And the project came through.
If the government is willing, then it doesn’t matter which party it is. But it does matter when they bring politics in, because I’m saddened by the fact that once the government was removed, the monorail project was shelved. I mean, it’s a project ready to be implemented. You can take the credit for it if you really want the credit. But you go and do the foundation stone for it and don’t call the MP, that’s unfortunate. Ultimately, the people suffer. You push the project back by six months. Six months’ delay in government actually means three-four years delay.
Anything you wanted to do that could not get done?
I would like to focus on smaller parks. And the other thing that couldn’t take off is… have you seen the Yamuna Pushta, the Yamuna river bed between Akshardham and Noida border?
It’s a huge belt. You can’t construct anything there and you should not. It should remain green. It’s lying there as a breathing space for Delhi. So what we had proposed to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was to build a semi-wooded forest there, put in lots and lots of trees so that floods don’t damage it when they come once a year for two-three months. And DDA agreed. But they formulated a grand plan and said, we’ll convert it into one of those bio-diversity parks. Now, the moment you take on a project too big, it takes a long time to get done. But I’m happy that their plans are ready. Hopefully it should get implemented.
Anything else that you are not satisfied with?
Yes, our sewage connectivity is not good and neither is cleanliness. I mean, I don’t want to make it a political issue but Municipal Corporation work is not satisfactory. Of course, we are also not people who are good with sanitation. We put solid waste into naalis. We dump stuff wherever we want. Our malba (debris), which comes from our housing construction is put on the roads. It blocks everything. So people have a part to play, but even then the kind of alacrity with which corporation should actually clean stuff just isn’t there.
Do you feel there needs to a special manifesto? What are your concerns?
I think with regard to my constituency we need more spaces for women. I don’t want to get into this whole thing of Delhi being safe or unsafe. That’s a cultural issue. But if you provide spaces which are gender neutral, gender sensitive things do make a difference. Look at Dilli Haat. It is a place where girls and boys and men and women can actually walk around and feel free. Of course, what individual men what would do, nobody can say. For example, the Dilli Haat we had planned that in front of the Samachar Apartment. Unfortunately some people went to the National Green Tribunal and stalled it, for what reason I don’t know. But that would have been a great space for women.
Also we need educational institutions – that’s why I was very keen on the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. What also happens is that when, in your neighbourhood, you find proud, confident women walking around, your own attitude starts changing. You know, the older, slightly more feudal mindset places women in a particular context in your thinking. And whenever women go outside of that context, the male in you reacts to it, which is most unfortunate. But the more openness you have, the more interactive places that are there, women feel more confident and there’s a healthy environment that builds.
The other problem that we do have is that we have very, very large, porous border with Uttar Pradesh. I am not saying there’s anything wrong with UP or Delhi but borders give people places to move in and out. So law and order as a protection institution is not that clear. I was hoping, and we had spoken to the Delhi Metro to create a ring metro on the Delhi-UP border. Once a ring metro is created then it becomes a more secure border. Police can take a look at it. Infrastructure can come up and therefore, the people moving in and out would be restricted to roads coming in and out. That will also ease our traffic woes. But that’s something for the future.
What about police reforms?
Police reforms , there are two parts to that. One is, most of the reforms that I have seen is in strengthening the police infrastructure. I think you need more police-public interfacing. And there needs to be mechanism where the police are sensitised to listening to people. But, you know, as regards to people, I would say we always agitate when the police take action, but the police ultimately have to take action. I am not holding out a candle for them; I have myself constantly spoken against the Delhi police. But I think a little more breathing space needs to be given to them, and of course gender sensitisation in Delhi police has to be severe. You just cannot do without that; it’s not just a matter of bringing in more women policemen. Women policemen are not the only solution. I have not seen women policemen being more or especially sensitive to women. Maybe if there are 30% of them, 40% of them that might make a difference. I have seen them frisking women, dealing with women during political agitations, talking to girls when they have a problem, them dealing with people in thanas. I am not talking of senior officers, but at the operational level, in my experience, women policemen are not particularly different from male policemen. I think it’sprobably the matter of culture of the organisation, the norms that have come, their practices, their behaviours, their attitudes. I think that needs to change.
In 1984, some of the worst hit riot areas were in your constituency, in Trilokpuri. Most of the survivors have moved out, but there are still some people there and feel that adequate justice or compensation has not been given to them. Is there any way you can bring up this issue?
Yes, good that you brought it up, because there are about 50-55 families that I am in touch with. And over time, they have also become good friends. They initially came to me very, very aggressively. But over time we have been able to help them out. In some places the home ministry and the government of India was very dogged about it, so we got the Delhi government to become more sensitive. When they went to court the government helped them out. As regards to compensation, there are still about 20-25 cases that I personally know are remaining. Maybe there will be more. If there are any, they should come to me. Trilokpuri has also been an area where a lot of perpetrators have been punished.
There is a large Muslim population in your constituency – Okhla, Jamia Nagar, Kondli, Patparganj, Kalyanpuri… How do you assess the needs of the minorities in this area, and how can they be addressed better?
One is of course sanitation and water. But that is not the case in the Yamuna paar area. That’s more of the case in Jamia Nagar. For the Rs 300-400 crore project that the Jal Board launched about a year ago, work is still on. The main lines have been put in, sewage treatment plants (STPs) have been put in. It will take two, two-and-a-half years, but once that happens, the entire area is going to get a sewage connection.
It’s a terribly congested belt with unplanned development all around, and so there’s the challenge of putting in civic infrastructure like water pipelines, sewage pipeline etc. But work is still on. And in some areas where work has happened, I have seena bit of a transformation. We had a major problem, you know the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had a put a restriction on 23 or 25 of those colonies, saying they could not be authorised because of some ASI mound, which was there centuries ago which couldn’t be found. Thankfully the ASI withdrew their objections. So, some of the remaining works in terms of local gallis and things that need to get cemented could get done.
Another thing that Muslims are looking for is access to the vast resources they have in terms of scholarships, bank loans, etc., through the Sachar Committee Report – that has been taken on in southern India much more. There’s very little reach in Delhi or Northern India. I think in that Muslims must make their own organisations, institutions and reach out to government. Through the Maulana Azad Education fund, we have got schools sanctioned for the Jamia area. Now we are only waiting for the two-and-a-half or three acres of land, which we have not been able to get. But fortunately now DDA has earmarked two-and-a-half acres of land along with Asifji, the local MLA.
Are you satisfied with how you have kept in touch with your constituency?
Partly so. I have three offices and I sit at home also. Every week, I do at least one or two rounds. But rounds are not really satisfactory. Being an MP, you also have this problem of long sessions, tours and other work. And I was, fortunately or unfortunately, the deputy chief whip and then chief whip, which means my parliamentary duties become severe. That cut off a lot of my time from public contact this time, but we still do manage to reach out to people on the ground. But formal communication through electronic, visual or print media has not been as effective because I really don’t know the mechanisms by which we can do those that are cost effective. Perhaps with growing media, more local newspapers coming in, I think that gap in future may get reduced.
10 years is a very long time. How serious a factor is anti-incumbency?
Well, it is there but there is also pro-incumbency because of the work that is done.
There is a lot of talk of the traditional Congress voters, particularly groups like Muslims moving towards the Aam Aadmi Party. Is that something you feel you can address through your campaign?
No, Muslims are not moving. Sure, Kejriwal is attacking Modi. But please remember, he has attacked Modi only on his development agenda, not a single word about the principle objection to Modi, which is the 2002 riots. What is your communal agenda or your secular agenda? Answer that first. And the Aam Aadmi Party has not asked a single question with regard to that. You look at the fact that in Delhi, even when a minister tried to unfairly impose himself on a station house officer, a policeman, the Aam Aadmi Party went ahead on a dharna. Every time something happened to a girl because it was politically suiting them, they went to a dharna. Where we they in the Muzaffarnagar riots? That is because secularism is not on their agenda. We are first challenging Modi on what his idea of India is. How will he look at humanity? Does he really believe that all of us have equal rights? And if he does, what did he do in 2002? Or what is he doing subsequent to that?
What are the new challenges of this campaign? How is it different from 2004 and 2009?
In 2004, we were attacking the NDA. When you are in a negative mode it’s much easier, you didn’t have to say much. In 2009 there was a very positive attitude for the Congress. This time, there is positivity for what’s been done, but there is also a large negativity which we need to counter. Most of it is actually rhetoric without any substance. But even rhetoric needs to be countered. How do we counter that, how do we speak in a language that actually tells people that what is being said against us is in fact completely untrue?
Do you see social media playing a big role?
I’m not a social media person.
You are on Twitter.
I mean, for me even sending an SMS is a challenge. I only interact on social media occasionally. My only basic concern about this media is that it doesn’t look at the authenticity of a claim. I’ve been a social science student and I’ve been brought up in a tradition that any claim has to be backed by logic and by facts, or by authority. But here a claim or a statement is a true statement unless proven otherwise. I don’t know how seriously to counter that, because I can’t fathom the mind of a person who takes any information at face value. There are others helping me with social media, so I hope they are able to meet that challenge.
Do you feel that Congress has recovered some ground from December?
Yes. Two reasons, one is that the Aam Aadmi Party government was evidently selling dreams. And I was sure that they would run away. I have seen governments running and I know what is possible and what is not. I mean you cannot take over people’s lives and give them everything on a platter. Maybe to an extent if you take recourse to cheap populism. They told people, “Your life is slightly difficult because everyone is corrupt and therefore if we will get honest people there, then your life will become super easy.”
Life is not difficult or easy just because of the government. It is because of circumstances, because of the economy, because of society, because of international issues. And they had a very, very simplistic idea because most people are simple. But parties and governments can’t be simple. With regard to Modi and his claims, I think the less said, the better. Even his campaigns seem to be a bit of a damp squib. He’s not been able to really project once he’s come out of Gujarat. Everyone’s challenging what he did there and in people’s minds, they’re pausing and sitting back and thinking that what we’ve seen wasnot news but a kind of a propaganda. People are also starting to say that UPA is not as bad as we thought it was.
(Part of a multimedia series for India.com and DNA)