More than 20,000 new Covid-19 cases per day and counting. As Delhi struggles to stay afloat in the Covid tsunami, it is missing a doer leader, someone like its former chief minister Sheila Dikshit.
Between an Arvind Kejriwal clearly out of his depth and an Amit Shah more interested in fighting elections in West Bengal and elsewhere, Delhi is crumbling. For the suffering national capital, its longest-serving chief minister who envisioned and created the modern-day Delhi, and who had an informed grip over administration, would seem like a perfect rescuer.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is clearly struggling to keep things together, just like the way he did during the first Covid wave last year. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who stepped in as the great rescuer then, has other priorities now — to conquer fresh territories and declare Prime Minister Narendra Modi and himself as the unbeatable rulers of India. Caught between lack of administrative depth and ruthless political ambitions are Delhi’s citizens bearing the brunt as the virus rages on.
No one to lead
Delhi has all but collapsed and there is nobody to lead the city-state out of this mess. The number of positive cases are going through the roof with the positivity rate nearing 30 per cent. There is acute shortage of oxygen, less than 100 ICU beds vacant in hospitals, and the situation is worsening every moment. CM Kejriwal is left appealing to the Centre for help.
The situation is not very different from last year. Kejriwal’s management of the pandemic exposed his limitations and lack of grip over governance.
“From fudging data related to coronavirus to trying to keep Delhi’s hospitals only for city residents, to wasting the lockdown period by not expanding the health infrastructure— Arvind Kejriwal has been doing everything that should not be done during a pandemic,” I had written in June last year.
Just when the national capital seemed to be drowning in its political leadership’s inability to get its act together, Amit Shah, who until then had been in the background, emerged as Delhi’s ‘super chief minister’, taking charge of the situation, visiting hospitals, ensuring availability of beds, focusing on ramping up testing and helping the city get back on its feet.
This year, however, has brought a bigger nightmare for Delhi. The numbers are far worse with daily cases almost three times last year’s peak, and the situation in hospitals is even more grim with severe oxygen and bed shortages. Add to it Arvind Kejriwal’s seeming helplessness and an absent Amit Shah.
Last year, Amit Shah made a smart political move by turning himself into Delhi’s messiah, and portraying Kejriwal as someone unable to lead effectively in a time of crisis. This was a loud message coming just months after Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the assembly election. This time, though, the home minister is busy with his politics elsewhere, and Delhi isn’t about to have any election anytime soon.
The Centre clearly needs to now take charge of Delhi’s Covid management. But Modi and Amit Shah have other priorities for now, and the national capital isn’t one of them.
At times like these, Delhi needs a dedicated leader who is capable and can take control of the situation. There is little doubt that Arvind Kejriwal is committed to Delhi, but he doesn’t tick the box of being in control of an unprecedented situation. Amit Shah might be able to effectively lead the way but hardly seems to show any dedication towards the national capital, or towards managing the Covid situation anywhere in the country for that matter.
Delhi, therefore, is missing Sheila Dikshit. Her political career may not have ended gloriously, but even her critics appreciate her administrative and governance capabilities.
She became the face of development in the city, the symbol of a changed Delhi that was defined by greener, cleaner air and revamped infrastructure. In the 15 years that she reigned, Delhi saw the construction of around 70 flyovers, and the very contentious switchover to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) by public buses and auto rickshaws. Sheila Dikshit was a leader with vision and the ability to implement that vision. She was full of intent and action, and had control over governance. Her love for Delhi and its people just added to that already effective cocktail.
Of course, there were fiascoes. The Commonwealth Games of 2010 being among the lowest points of her chief ministerial stint.
But at times as surreal and alarming as the one we face today, Delhi could do with a leader like Sheila Dikshit to reassure, take charge and steer its people out of this turbulence. For now, neither Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal nor Home Minister Amit Shah seem to make the cut, which is unfortunate for Delhi’s voters who overwhelmingly supported Kejriwal’s AAP in the assembly polls and Modi-Shah’s BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)