She was about to turn 29 and was an assistant professor, having earned her PhD from the School of Management Studies at the Indira Gandhi National Open University. But like so many of Delhi’s youth, Dr Shelly Oberoi was drawn to the anti-corruption movement started by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal in 2011.
“Shelly, like thousands of others her age, converged at the rallies of the anti-corruption movement,” said a functionary of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), attached to the office of Gopal Rai, convenor of the Delhi unit. “She wanted to be part of the change that was going to happen, so she joined the party in 2013”.
Ambitious, both academically and professionally, Shelly’s decision to join politics was born of the zeitgeist of India, particularly Delhi at that time. It was when the Nirbhaya incident occured. It was also a time when the youth wanted to give vent to their anger at the corruption in public life.
Anna Hazare and Kejriwal’s movement gave them the opportunity to converge at Delhi’s Ram Leela grounds, the venue of the protest.
Just 30 days? Why?
Shelly’s very short spell as Mayor is because, according to the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, the Corporation Mayor and Deputy Mayor have to be elected annually. “The Corporation , at its first meeting each year, elect one of its members to be the Chairperson to be known as the Mayor and another member to be the Deputy Mayor of the Corporation:.
The Mayor “shall hold office from the term of his election until the election of his successor in office”. According to Section 72 in page 37, “The Corporation shall ordinarily hold at least one meeting in every month for the transaction of business”.
So when the financial year ends later this month, and DMC holds its meeting in April 2023, elections to the post of Mayor and Deputy Mayor will be held again. So Shelly Oberoi’s term ends sometime next month, unless her party nominates her and she wins that fierce contest too.
Fresh polls will be due on or after April 1st.
“Both these ideas, women’s safety and gender justice, and the idea of a corruption-free India that everyone dreamt of then, were the foundational ideas for the formation of the AAP,” said one of the party’s early members, who has since moved on . “The youth hoped for young people joining politics and shaping governance. Shelly Oberoi was one of them”.
Read more: Stray animals a menace in the capital, but AAP says it has a plan
Journey to mayoral post
Shelly, like many AAP leaders, comes from a middle class family. Her father Satish Kumar Oberoi is a businessman, mother Saroj Oberoi a home maker. Shelly has a brother Tushar and sister, Mili.
Given her academic qualifications, Shelly, who had got the ticket from ward No 86, a BJP stronghold, should have romped home in the Delhi mayoral race. In the end she did win the fight to become the first mayor of the unified Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC) which was formed in 2022. But it was anything but smooth. Coincidentally, the first mayor of the DMC in 1958, was also a woman, the legendary Aruna Asaf Ali.
The current battle for mayorship became a nasty slugfest between AAP and the BJP, which has been calling the shots in Delhi for the past 15 years. Shelly finally won after a feisty campaign, wresting the DMC from the BJP.
Shelly was surprised and overwhelmed when she was named the AAP choice for mayor. “Over the next few months we will all work together to make Delhi the city that it should have been,” she promised. “The BJP during its tenure has turned Delhi into the ‘Garbage Capital of the Country’. We will work together to ensure that Delhi becomes clean again.”
Priority no 1: Garbage clearance
Describing her priorities as mayor, Shelly had said, “The party had given 10 guarantees during the elections, they will be fulfilled. Delhi will be cleaned and transformed. The promises made by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to the public will be fulfilled”. The new mayor even started visiting the garbage mounds with other party colleagues.
Her first battle in the mayoral polls was when the Lt Governor of Delhi nominated 12 members who would obviously vote for the BJP’s candidate. Three attempts to elect a Mayor had ended in acrimony and ruckus in the house. Shelly took to the streets over the illegality of nominated members — aldermen — being allowed to vote.
Eventually the Supreme Court, on February 17th, ordered that that nominated members cannot vote. The elections were finally held on February 22nd, and she was declared winner after what the party called a “long and tumultuous fight”
In her first speech after being elected, Shelly described her win as a victory for the people of Delhi and for the democratic process. “Today’s election result also proves that ‘gundagardi’ that had been prevailing in the MCD in the last few days has been defeated and it is the victory of truth”.
“My first priority will be to inspect, in the next 3-4 days the “kude ka pahad” (mountains of waste). Though our councillors had begun their work in their wards even before they were sworn in, now they will be doing it officially. I will run the house as per the DMC Act, everything will be as per the law and the Constitution”.
Read more: Delhi Municipal Corporation: Why three failed to do better than one
DMC had got its mayor and deputy mayor, but the election of the six members of the Standing Committee — a cabinet of sorts — dragged on for days. Many members took to eating and sleeping in the House, where bottles were hurled and slaps exchanged. Shelly had tweeted at the time that she had “sought an urgent meeting with the Delhi Police Commissioner regarding the attack on me by BJP Councillors in the MCD House”.
But while Shelly had passed her exams with aplomb, her mayoral stint is unlikely to be very different. She has a very, very short tenure, not even six weeks to fulfil her promises. She could have had a three months term in office if the election had gone smoothly soon after the council elections.
Whatever time Shelly rules as mayor will not be an easy time if one is to go by the tweet of one Delhi resident Anil, who prefers to go without a last name. Anil wants Shelly to “first resolve the garbage issue, CCTV, make it like London as claimed by Kejriwal. But don’t kill stray dogs otherwise AAP will suffer”.
The Mayor, as the chairperson of the municipal council, will conduct all the meetings of the corporation. The most important and challenging task is electing the members of the Standing Committee, which is much like a cabinet in a state government.(Section 45, page 31)
The Mayor will also oversee the constitution of other municipal committees, like the Ward Committees, the Education Committee and the Rural Areas Committees.
The Mayor will receive and take a call on the resignation of chairman or members of the Standing Committee(Section 48, page 32).
Much like any minister, the Mayor is entitled to residence, conveyance etc.
She also has “full access to all the records of the Corporation and may obtain reports from the Commissioner or any matter connected with the municipal government of Delhi”.
Such access to information makes the Mayor’s office powerful. Shelly’s role will certainly not be ceremonial, given she will oversee the working of the DMC.
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