Bengaluru: Former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who passed away late last night, had a strong Karnataka connection.
For nearly 15 years since 1999, Sushma had made it a point to celebrate Varamahalakshmi festival every year at the house of renowned physician Dr. B.K. Sreenivasa Murthy in Bellary (now Ballari), from where she had unsuccessfully contested the 1999 Lok Sabha elections against the then Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
In 1999, Sonia was making her electoral debut and the contest between Sonia and Sushma was a fiery one and soon became a battle between the ‘Swadeshi Beti’ and ‘Videshi Bahu’.
The ‘Big Battle of Bellary’ helped the BJP create a strong base for itself not just in Bellary and but also in the adjoining districts where the party was a non-entity. Although Sonia, who also contested from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh in that election, defeated Sushma by 56,000 votes, Sushma, an ace orator and campaigner, won the hearts of the people of Ballari in particular and Karnataka in general.
Even the nomination paper filing of Sushma Swaraj was dramatic and filled with suspense. Sushma’s name was mooted by late Ramakrishna Hegde and she was accompanied by late H.N. Ananth Kumar and current Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu when she filed her nomination.
The high decibel campaign in Ballari drew the nation’s attention as Sushma, who had gained a working knowledge of Kannada within a month, drew huge crowds during her campaign as she spoke in Kannada quite fluently. She was showered with so much affection that she made it a point to visit the district every year to celebrate Varamahalakshmi festival, which incidentally falls on Friday, Aug. 9 this year.
Though Sonia gave up the Ballari seat, her contest with Sushma remains etched as one of the fiery electoral battles in Indian history. Sushma contesting from Bellary was indeed a turning point in the lives of the Reddy brothers of Bellary and their friend B Sriramulu, who later played a crucial role in installing the first-ever BJP government in Karnataka, led by B.S. Yediyurappa.
Sushma then had announced that “as a daughter of Bellary” she would come there to celebrate the festival as long as she is alive. However, due to health issues and her busy schedule as External Affairs Minister, she had not visited Bellary for the last few years.
Her campaign was managed by Reddy brothers, who later fell out with her after G. Janardhana Reddy was indicted in the illegal mining scam. She eventually cut ties with them and stopped visiting Ballari.