Chandigarh mourns Sushma Swaraj, recalls her journey to greatness
BJP stalwart Sushma Swaraj’s sudden death has shocked her teachers and colleagues in Chandigarh, a city she was connected with since she was a student.
Sushma Swaraj died in New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) after she suffered a massive cardiac arrest late on Tuesday. She was 67.
After her schooling in her home town in Haryana’s Ambala district, she enrolled for a three-year law degree at Chandigarh’s Punjab University (PU) in 1970.
Her teacher, Balram K Gupta, recalled she had a certain level of reputation as a debater even before she joined PU. But it was here she nurtured by participating in almost all debate and declamation competitions both within PU and outside. And, Gupta said, she never looked back.
“You could feel the genesis of a parliamentarian in her when she stood out in mock parliament held in PU in 1972,” Gupta, who is currently the director (academics), of the Chandigarh Judicial Academy, said.
The 75-year-old Gupta recalled her initial steps into public life, which began after she came in touch stalwarts like George Fernandes.
“How can I forget the fiery speech she delivered during Jagjivan Ram’s rally in Chandigarh after he broke ties with the Congress and joined the Janata Dal party in the mid 70s,” Gupta said.
“… she spoke better than Jagjivan that day and that I believed was the turning point in her career,” said Gupta.
Another of Swaraj’s teacher, Professor DN Johar, said the nation has lost a great voice and a humble person after Swaraj’s death. Johar said even though she began practising as a lawyer in Punjab and Haryana High court after graduating from PU in 1973, she knew since her college days that she wanted to be in public life.
“She proved it when she was elected to Haryana assembly as its youngest MLA from Ambala and then there was no looking back for her,” he said.
People, who knew both Sushma Swaraj and her husband Swaraj Kaushal, said they came from humble families. Her father-in-law was a clerk in PU. They were batchmates in PU, became life partners later and fought a number of cases on behalf of several leaders together during Emergency.
When Bansal fought for her
Former Union minister and ex-member of Parliament from Chandigarh, Pawan Bansal said Swaraj was his junior in the law department. “We soon came friends as we both were active in student life,” Bansal said.
The Congress leader said she was once denied a place in the then prestigious AC Bali Memorial Declamation contest as she had already won it twice.
“We fought with teachers to allow her to participate and she won it for the third time as well, a record victory. I believe, no one holds till date,” said Bansal.
He said due to her great oratory skills, she was invited to host the oath-taking ceremony of PU student council in which he was elected as the secretary-general. “We especially deferred the ceremony as she was not available on the day it was fixed,” he said.
Bansal said that his association with the former foreign affairs minister did not end there.
“Being parliamentarians, we often had close interaction. I was the parliamentary affairs minister in UPA-2 (between 2009 and 2014) when she was the leader of the opposition. Though we had a lot of arguments over pushing government agenda, I always admired her capabilities,” he said.
“For me, it was a personal loss and shocking indeed,” said Bansal.
When she floored Pakistani lawmakers
Her party colleague and a close associate for 40 years, former lawmaker Satya Pal Jain said they went to Pakistan’s Lahore together with the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999.
During an event, she surprised everyone with her speech in Urdu as most of the Pakistan MPs spoke in English.
Jain, who was also her election agent, said her family had migrated from Lahore during partition. They had an ancestral house in Dharampura near Lahore.
“During our Lahore visit, we both went there to locate her old house. She narrowed down two-three houses. We sadly could not locate her house,” he added.
Jain said her death has left a huge void both within the BJP and outside.