Bengaluru: “Three days ago, we invited Sushma Swaraj to come to Bellary again for the Vara Mahalakshmi pooja which falls on August 9. Though she sounded fine, she expressed her inability to make it because of her poor health,” said Dr B.K. Sundar, elder son of Dr Sreenivasa Murthy, the father-in-law of devotional singer Sri Vidyabushana. The senior BJP leader used to stay at their residence whenever she was in Bellary and Dr Sundar recalls that she was a down-to-earth person who used to mingle with everyone at his house. “We felt she was one of our family members and not a famed political leader of the country. She hardly spoke about politics, instead she encouraged us to serve the common people as physicians,” he says.
For more than a decade since 1999, Ms Swaraj had kept her promise of celebrating the Varamahalakshmi festival every year in the mining capital of Bellary from where she had unsuccessfully contested the 1999 Lok Sabha elections against Ms Sonia Gandhi.
Those associated with her poll campaign recall that Ms Swaraj was a quick learner and started addressing her poll rallies in chaste Kannada winning many a heart. Though she failed to stop the Congress juggernaut in its then bastion. The “Sushma versus Sonia” battle, which was fought on the lines of a “Beti versus Bahu” contest drew scores of apolitical people to the BJP in Bellary and surrounding areas. It was then that Ms Swaraj announced that as a “daughter of Bellary,” she would come to the mining hub to celebrate the festival as long as she was alive. She had been visiting Bellary without fail since 1999 on the occasion of Mahalakshmi Vratha and performed the puja barring 2008, when she did not come due to her father-in-law’s demise.
Dr Sundar also recalled his conversation with her after she decided not to seek re-election in the 2018 Lok Sabha poll from Vidisha. “She told me that she was keeping good health but doctors had asked her to stay safe from infections,” he said. “When I cannot mingle with people, what is the point in me continuing in electoral politics,” she had asked. She was a diabetic and had undergone a kidney transplant in December 2016.
Post 2011, she gave the Bellary festival organised by the controversial mining magnates turned politicians, the Reddy brothers who consider her their godmother, a miss, after the Reddys and their close associate B. Sriramulu figured in the multi-crore iron ore mining scam.
Indeed, Ms Swaraj contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Bellary was a turning point in the lives of Reddy brothers and their friend Sriramulu, who later played a pivotal role in installing the first-ever BJP government in Karnataka led by B.S. Yediyurappa in 2008.
But the illegal mining scam involving the Reddy brother and Mr Yediyurappa, led to the exit of the veteran BJP leader from the CM’s post and even landed him in jail. In the 2013 Assembly polls, the Congress swept back to power making the best of the split in the BJP with Yediyurappa forming his own outfit and ensuring the defeat of his parent party.