Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj during a party rally in Nagpur on April 2, 2019 (File photo)
Sushmaji’s death marks the end of an era for the country, for BJP and for thousands of young leaders who have grown up watching her unique style of principled, compassionate politics.
The death of Smt Sushma Swaraj is one of the saddest moments of my life. Sushma ji was one of the rare politicians who will be remembered as much for her humane qualities, as for her supreme professional capabilities. For me, Sushma ji’s death is a personal loss. Today, I have lost an elder sister, who always showered her warmth and blessings upon me and was always there for me whenever I would need any advice from her.
My memories of Sushmaji span across three different phases of her political life.
I have always admired her feisty journey in the early part of her career. Becoming an MLA at the young age of 25, she was among the most prominent voices against Emergency. Later in the 1990s, she played a pivotal role in the growth of the BJP across the country. She was extremely selfless, often taking up difficult challenges for the party. The best example of her selfless dedication to the party was when she consented to contest from Bellary seat in Karnataka against Sonia Gandhi in 1999. She knew the odds were against her, yet she gave a tough fight to the opponent, even learning Kannada language within a couple of weeks.
Nitin Gadkari greets party leader Sushma Swaraj during Holi celebrations at his residence (File photo)
Sushmaji was a linguist and an orator par excellence. In fact, her speeches in Parliament on Article 370 and some of our other ideological issues were so passionate and inspiring that young BJP leaders today can learn a lot about these issues from her speeches.
When I became the BJP president in 2010, it gave me an opportunity to work closely with Sushma ji. I found her extremely supportive of me, often guiding and hand-holding me on crucial issues. I can’t divulge certain details here but there were times when I faced challenges as party president, where I needed a senior to help me. I got that support from her.
It was during this phase that Sushma ji created a mark for herself as the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Her fiery speeches exposing the corruption of the UPA government created a big impact in the country. What was equally impressive was Sushmaji’s ability to forge personal bond with leaders cutting across political parties. She had the maturity to keep politics away from personal bonds. At a time when we were working hard to forge a broader Opposition alliance for the party, this ability of Sushmaji was a big asset for the party.
I remember that when she first got to know of my decision to contest Lok Sabha elections from Nagpur in 2014, she was a bit concerned for me. She told me that Nagpur wasn’t an easy constituency for the BJP and that I should choose any other constituency. She was protective towards me. But when I won from Nagpur by a record majority, she was extremely happy for me.
In 2014, when Sushmaji became the External Affairs Minister, once again she raised the bar with her unique skills. Never before in India’s history was India’s External Affairs Minister so easily accessible to Indians in trouble across the world. She made sure that any Indian in distress in any part of the world was helped out at the earliest. While on the one hand, her ferocious speeches at the UN ripped Pakistan apart for its duplicity on terror, she also extended medical support in India to many Pakistanis. Her nuanced and layered personality as a politician put her in a different league altogether.
Due to her warmth and affable nature, I respected her a lot and over a period of time, our families also got to know each other.
Once when I was unwell and Sushmaji got to know of it, she landed up at my house with a specialist doctor from AIIMS. She made sure I went through all medical tests and then even recommended a diet to suit my health condition. As you know, I have a weakness for food. I soon cheated on that diet plan. When Sushmaji came to know of it, she called up my wife Kanchan and affectionately asked her to keep a tab on my food indulgences.
Sushmaji’s daughter Bansuri is very fond of the parathas cooked at my house and often I also invite her over to have her favourite parathas with curd. When I would go to Sushmaji’s place, she often made sure my favourite poha was prepared.
After winning the Lok Sabha election once again from Nagpur in 2019, I visited Sushma ji’s home. It was like a brother going to meet his elder sister. We spoke for nearly an hour and a half. Our discussion only revolved around our families, not on politics.
On 6th Aug, I got the shocking news of Sushamji’s heart attack around 10 pm. On my way to the hospital, I kept praying, hoping against hope that Sushmaji would pull this off. But God had other plans!
Sushma’s death marks the end of an era for the country, for BJP and for thousands of young leaders who have grown up watching her unique style of principled, compassionate politics.
(The writer is a Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and MSME)