The high-voltage election contest between BJP’s Sushma Swaraj and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections brought the Bellary constituency to national limelight. Though Swaraj lost the election, she weaved an emotional connect with Bellary and helped BJP lay its base in Karnataka. As she passed away on Tuesday, her followers in the constituency remember her as Sushma ‘Thayi’ (mother in Kannada).
She would visit the district every year to celebrate the Varamahalakshmi festival – a promise she had made to the people after her defeat in 1999. But corruption allegations against her close aides in Bellary – Janardhana Reddy and BJP leader Sriramulu – in 2011 forced her to discontinue the visits.
Recalling her association with the district in north-west Karnataka, former chief minister Jagadish Shettar, said, “She is a daughter of Karnataka and also she was very proficient in Kannada. Following the instruction of the party Sushma had contested the election in Bellary against Sonia Gandhi. Though she lost the election but it helped the BJP create a strong base in Bellary and also in Karnataka. Whenever we were meeting her, she would address us in Kannada.”
Swaraj learnt Kannada when she was lodged in Bangalore Central Jail after the Emergency was declared. This later helped her in reaching out to voters during election campaigns. She addressed her rallies in Kannada which impressed voters in the state. “She not only knew Kannada, she even was a keen observer of Karnataka politics,” added Shettar.
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During her visits to the district, she would stay at the residence of Dr B K Sreenivasa Murthy. “Three days ago my father had called Sushma and invited her to the Varamahalakshmi festival on August 9, but she told she can’t come due to health issues.” said Dr B K Srikanth, son of Dr Murthy.