‘Mother of Ballari’ Sushma Swaraj had a bonding of sorts with Karnataka
Former External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who passed away Tuesday night, had a bonding of sorts with Karnataka ever since she contested against Congress President Sonia Gandhi in what turned out to be a “big battle” in Ballari Lok Sabha constituency in 1999.
A traditional stronghold of Congress till then, Swaraj lost the election by over 50,000 votes but that did not deter her from visiting Ballari in the backward Hyderabad-Karnataka region, where she made several friends. She made it a point to come to Ballari (earlier spelt as Bellary) every year for over a decade thereafter to celebrate “Varamahalakshmi Vrata” and perform the pooja at the residence of noted physician Dr B K Sreenivasa Murthy in Ballari.
Swaraj learned Kannada so thoroughly that she used to address public meetings in the language, winning many hearts. In fact, even in later years whenever she met leaders from Karnataka, she sought to speak in Kannada.
“It’s a fact that she had a personal relationship with Karnataka and particularly with Bellary and that is why she is often called as ‘Mother of Bellary’“, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda recalled in a condolence message to her husband Swaraj Kaushal.
Gowda said Sushma spoke to him in Kannada when he met her in Delhi several times, and termed this as “laudable”.
Describing her as a prolific orator, excellent administrator and an exceptional parliamentarian, he said: “... whenever I asked for some public work, she (used to) call me and say that the work has been done.” The elctoral fight between Sushma and Sonia two decades ago attracted nation-wide attention, and also helped the BJP strengthen its base in a big way in Ballari and neighbouring districts.
After paying his last respects to Sushma in New Delhi, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa recalled that he and the former External Affairs Minister were staying in the same hotel for a month during the campaigning in 1999. Yediyurappa also recalled that she had picked up Kannada and used to interact with the people in the language.
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Mining barons Reddy brothers of Ballari -- Janardhana, Karunakara and Somashekhara, and their close aide B Sriramulu -- called Swaraj their “mother” and flourished in politics during the time following the ascendency of BJP. However, as the mining scam started making national headlines, Sushma distanced herself from them.
She also did not visit Ballari for “Varamahalakshmi Vrata” in recent years, due to health reasons, her busy schedule and also apparently to steer clear of potential controversies surrounding the Reddy brothers. Incidentally, her death came just three days before the Vrata on August 9.