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Debating with Sushma Swaraj

chandigarh Updated: Apr 09, 2014 09:24 IST
Col RD Singh (retd)

The excitement of the general elections reminds me of my enthusiastic college debates with Sushma Swaraj, the no-nonsense, versatile woman who rose to be leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and might be prime minister one day.

In 1972, I was in the second year of the BA English (honours) course, representing DAV College, Chandigarh, when Sushma Sharma (she married Swaraj Kaushal later), in the same year of law, stood for her Panjab University department as Hindi orator, though she is good at my language as well.

After a few contests, we of the debaters club came to know each other well, as we were only a handful at the university level.

Sushma and Jyotsana Pandit of Government College for Women among the ladies, and Ish Kapoor, Rattandeep Singh, ML Verma (later IAS officer and principal secretary to former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal), Lalit Kapoor, Pranav Singhal, and I among the men were leading debaters of the university.

From St Stephen's, Delhi, was the familiar team of Vivek Katju (later Indian Foreign Service) and a stocky guy called Chowdhary.

With Sushma as our leader, we were a well-knit team competing against St Stephen's, Hindu or Kirorimal. It was either Ish Kapoor or she who would win us the inter-college shield mostly.

Katju scored over us with his Stephenian style but the press liked Sushma, and would declare with the headline: "Sushma wins again". She made news even then. She carried herself well, was good at studies, and she married her classmate later.

She commanded huge respect on the campus. Of my two fond memories of her, one is of a youth festival at DAV College in November 1972. I beat her to the first prize. Having tea, later, in the college cafeteria, I dipped my necktie accidentally into my tea. Sushma had a hearty laugh and all joined her, as an occasion to celebrate.

When we (DAV team Pranav Singhal and I) defeated St Stephen's at Vaish College, Bhiwani, in April 1973, it was the greatest satisfaction, for often my Haryanvi accent would lose me points. In this competition, I convinced the judges that I was proud of my mother tongue and it was not accent but the content, style, and argument that mattered.

I won, a great moment for professor CL Dhamija, team in-charge, as well. Principal Triloki Nath complimented me especially for humbling the "snobbish" St Stephen's team.

Sushma and I parted ways in the late 1973 when I went to the army and she to her legal practice. I kept tabs on her career as she won the legislator's election from Ambala and became the youngest minister in the Devi Lal government at 25.

She entered the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet and became a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson.

Today, as leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, she has an onerous task. Wishing her, and all my debating colleagues, great service to the nation.