Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (not pictured) at the Palace Hotel, on the sidelines of the the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 22, 2017.REUTERS/Darren Ornitz

The sudden demise of the former External Affairs Minister and BJP stalwart Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday (August 6) night has stunned the nation. The former Union minister had a proximate bond with Karnataka and kannada language.

During the emergency period, Sushma Swaraj was lodged for over a year from June 1975 in the Bangalore central jail, where other Jan Sangh party stalwarts Atal Behri Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Madhu Dandavate were also jailed. It was in the jail that she learnt to speak Kannada.

In March 1977, Sushma Swaraj was one of the party's national leaders who campaigned across Karnataka during the general elections as she was popular and fluent in Kannada to speak and as a symbol of Indian women and their hoary traditions, said a former BJP lawmaker G. Madhusudan, reports IANS.

Sushma Swaraj entered Karnataka decisively in 1999, while fighting against Sonia Gandhi for the Lok Sabha seat in Ballari. She turned the constitutency into a high-voltage electoral war with a tagline - swadeshi vs videshi, though she lost the battle.

"She learnt to speak Kannada during her stay in the jail so well she not only remembered since then, but also campaigned effectively in the local language to connect with the native people," recalled BJP legislator G. Madhusudan.

Even though Swaraj faced a poll debacle, she kept her links and fondness with the district and her close aides during the time, the Reddy brothers and their aide B Sriramulu, who is now a BJP MLA.

Known as 'Sushma Thaayi' by the people of Ballari and she used to visit the district every year during the month of Shravan in Hindu calendar, especially to take part in the Varamahalakshmi Pooja (a festival to propitiate the Goddess Lakshmi) until 2012. 

Sushma Swaraj blessing mining czar G Janardhan Reddy and Sritamulu
Sushma Swaraj blessing mining czar G Janardhan Reddy and SritamuluTwitter

The mining baron and former BJP minister Gali Janardhan Reddy and Sriramulu owe their political entry to Swaraj, and they shot to fame when BJP formed its first government in Karnataka later. 

Swaraj had also made several friends in Ballari, including a physician Dr BK Srinivasa Murthy at whose house she used to stay during her visits to the district. She was treated by him when she fell ill during the 1999 elections. It was during her stay with Dr Murthy that she announced her decision to visit Ballari every year as long as she is alive, to take part in the Varamahalakshmi Pooja. But after 2011, Sushma Swaraj, who was then the Opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, stopped her visits to the district following the arrest of Gali Janardhan Reddy by CBI in cases of illegal mining.

Though she distanced herself from Ballari and the Reddy brothers, Swaraj kept in close contact with Dr Murthy and his family, sending them gifts during festivals and other occasions. Now the district of Ballari may not get to see their thayi but they remember her vividly forever.

(With inputs from IANS)