One of the biggest traits of Sushma Swaraj as a politician was her ability to take on daring challenges. This is in stark contrast to most politicians who look for safe seats and an easy path to fame and glory. But Sushma Swaraj, being an ardent street fighter never believed in taking the easy path. And hence, she was always the party’s first choice when it was about taking up a tricky assignment.
Be it taking the challenge of becoming Delhi CM at a time when BJP was reeling from the heat of onion price inflation, or taking on then Congress President Sonia Gandhi from Bellary in 1999 Lok Sabha elections.
Congress after keeping plans of fielding Sonia Gandhi from pocket borough of Bellary under wraps for a long time made the decision at the eleventh hour. At that time, BJP was determined to put up a strong fight against Sonia Gandhi. The issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign identity was a burning topic in Indian politics at that time.
BJP was looking to field someone who would be a powerful leader but a complete counter to Sonia Gandhi. And hence after much deliberation and rejecting names of popular South Indian cinestars, BJP zeroed in on Sushma Swaraj. Swaraj by then was one of the most influential leader of BJP, just a rung below Advani, Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi. The proposal was mooted by Ramakrishna Hegde, and given green signal by Advani and Vajpayee after Sushma readily agreed.
Swaraj who carried her Indianness on her sleeve was the natural candidate to take on Sonia Gandhi. Even though, she was from North India, Swaraj took to the challenge of fighting from a different part of the country extremely enthusiastically. To ensure better connection with the masses, Swaraj picked up Kannada and spoke it fluently during the election rallies.
In the battle between ‘Videshi and Swadeshi’ as she herself called it, Sushma Swaraj lost but managed to get 44.70% votes. At that time, the Ballary brothers managed her campaign, though she had fallout with them later. Swaraj grew fond of Bellary and used to come every year till 2013 to perform Var Lakshmi Pujan.
Sushma Swaraj though continued her friction with ‘videshi’ Sonia Gandhi and even threatened to tonsure her head in 2004 if Sonia Gandhi becomes PM. Finally, as fate would have it, Sonia Gandhi never became PM. Neither did Sushma Swaraj, who many believed had the acumen to get the top job.