Springing a surprise, External Affairs Minister and senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj announced Tuesday that she will not contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. Citing health reasons, 66-year-old Swaraj, who represents Vidisha in Lok Sabha and is serving her fourth term in the House, told reporters in Indore: “It is the party which decides, but I have made up my mind not to contest the next (Lok Sabha) elections due to health reasons.” She had undergone kidney transplant in 2016.
“After being elected from Vidisha as Lok Sabha MP, I was Leader of Opposition. Later, I was given the responsibility of External Affairs Ministry. Despite holding these prime posts, I used to visit all assembly segments in my constituency every month for nearly eight years. Doctors have advised me that I should avoid exposure to dust. Because of this, I am unable to take part even in election rallies,” she said.
“Due to health reasons, I cannot participate in outdoor public programmes… I have also told my party leadership, that in view of health reasons, I have to avoid such exposure,” she said.
The significance of Swaraj’s announcement is its place and time — barely a week before polls in Madhya Pradesh where her colleague Shivraj Singh Chouhan is fighting anti-incumbency. Though her health may be a reason, it fuels speculation about internal politics within the BJP given her formidable political seniority.
The only member from Vajpayee’s 13-day government in the current government, she has fought every big battle the party fielded her in: be it challenging Sonia Gandhi in Bellary or Sheila Dikshit in Delhi. Her withdrawal from the field, therefore, has set off buzz both within the party and outside.
In a tweet later, Swaraj said she was not retiring from politics. Her tweet was in response to Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta’s comment that her retirement from electoral politics does not imply that she is retiring from politics altogether and that there is a great deal of contribution she can make to public life despite not being in Lok Sabha.
Her husband Swaraj Kaushal posted “thank you” on Twitter and said even Milkha Singh stopped running.
While Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said it was Swaraj’s personal decision, his party leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram said: “Braving illness, Smt Sushma Swaraj has served the country with great dignity. We wish Smt Sushma Swaraj good health and a long life.”
In another tweet, Chidambaram said: “Smt Sushma Swaraj is the Member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh and she is smart. She has read the writing on the wall in Madhya Pradesh and announced that she will not contest the 2019 LS election.”
Responding to Congress MP Shashi Tharoor who said “for all our political differences, I am sorry” she will leave Parliament and that he, as chair of the House External Affairs Committee, “always found her a gracious EAM”, Swaraj said: “Thanks for your kind words, Shashi. I wish we both continue in our respective positions.”
A powerful orator, Swaraj has had rare distinctions, including being the youngest cabinet minister at 25 when she joined the Haryana government in 1977 and the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi. She is also the first woman External Affairs Minister of the country. Indira Gandhi, though, as Prime Minister had held the portfolio.
Swaraj has also served in Rajya Sabha for three terms and was a member of Haryana assembly twice. She started her political life with ABVP, the RSS student wing, and later joined the BJP. She was Information and Broadcasting Minister in the 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1996 and got the Cabinet portfolio again after he led the BJP to power in 1998.
She had to resign to become Delhi Chief Minister because the party leadership believed she could lead the BJP to power in the national capital. Her short tenure, though, was of little help as the party lost badly.
Swaraj’s most notable political battle was the one against Sonia Gandhi, the then Congress president, in Bellary, Karnataka in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls. Long seen as a protege of veteran BJP leader L K Advani, she was Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha between 2009 and 2014.
— (With PTI)