Source: The Hitavada      Date: 25 Apr 2018 12:36:11



“A woman has to prove her ability twice over to be accepted in this society. But once she makes a beginning, it is a cakewalk,” says Sushma Swaraj. But she testifies that there was not a single occasion in her 41-years of active political life when she was discriminated against either on the ground of sex or age. True enough. Sushma was always a leader. Brought up rather differently by her mother’s maternal uncle and aunt (whom Sushma refers to as Nana and Nani), as an adopted child she got the backing and support that no girl in those days probably got. “When my Nana and Nani formally adopted me I got the feeling that I was much sought after and extraordinary. I was always given the impression that I was not just another of the lot,” she says impishly. She sure grew up to stand out in a crowd. The affection and love showered upon her by doting ‘parents’ did not spoil her but helped to harness all her latent talents -- her oratorical skills in particular. It was this self-confidence that saw her bagging trophies and medals in her student days and later holding in thrall a two-lakh crowd at the Ramlila grounds in Delhi during the Emergency.

“I was loved by all my teachers because I was able to strike a balance between academics and extra-curricular activities,” says the lady who was adjudged the best cadet in the National Cadet Corps for three years consecutively and got the ‘Best Student’ award as well with ease. She did her schooling and college education at the S D institutions at Ambala Cantt and remembers she was nicknamed daku at home. “Whenever I returned from competitions or exams, I was greeted with exultant cries -- Daku aa gayi, sub lootke aa gayi” (dacoit has come after looting every one). While she never played with dolls, and admits that she was never brought up the way girls are, she was no tomboy either. “I was a very sociable person and never quarrelled with others -- in fact, my various activities in the Girl Guides Movement, the Bharat Sevak Samaj, NDS parade and others kept me busy,” she recalls. Though her Nana encouraged her during her growing years, it was her Nani who left a far greater impression on Sushma. “She was constantly urging me to enter the kitchen. ‘Beti kuch to seekh lo,’ she implored,” recalls Sushma, having realised the wisdom behind her Nani’s advice much later. But her Nana would invariably intervene, saying that Sushma was destined to don the black coat, not to soil her hands rolling chapatis.

Yet, it was not just the importance of picking up culinary skills that her Nani imparted. “When I look back, I realise she was a perfect combination of the old and new. Her adaptability to new situations was simply remarkable. She gradually turned into my ideal.” In keeping with her Nana’s wishes, Sushma did go to law school where she came under another powerful influence: her husband-to-be, Swaraj Kaushal. “It was not a typical love marriage. It was a culmination of togetherness. We were together as students and as debaters… very compatible.”As Sushma exhibited her legal prowess, both her Nana and Swaraj began to think on the same lines. While her Nana dreamt of sending her to practise as an advocate and agonised over the right match for her, Swaraj was troubled that a budding talent could get lost if Sushma was married off to a villager from Haryana. So it was that her Nana proposed the marriage. “Tomorrow she will fight against you in court,” he told Swaraj gingerly. Swaraj replied, “Dono saath milkar vakalat karenge” (both of us will work as lawyers). It was the famous Baroda Dynamite Case in which Janata Party leader George Fernandez was involved that catapulted the husband-wife team (who were the defending counsel) into the political arena. While Swaraj already had strong Socialist leanings, being involved in the Samyuktha Socialist Party, Sushma had no political background, save the fact that her father was a committed RSS man and she herself was involved in the student movement.

The case against Fernandez was withdrawn. The couple were noticed at this juncture and were irrevocably drawn into the political activity during the Emergency and thereafter. They were called upon to campaign for the Janata Party which was but a coming together of all anti-Congress forces. “Swaraj and I do have different political ideologies to this day. But it does not disturb us because the binding factor is our hatred for pseudo-secularism,” says Sushma. Her active political career began in 1977 when she won the Assembly elections from Ambala Cantt and was inducted into the Devi Lal Ministry at the young age of 25. The rift between the Janata Party and its Jan Sangh component -- the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party took her through ups and downs until she finally joined the BJP in 1984. Sushma has been having a highly successful stint in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha where her powerful oratory rarely goes unnoticed. And as BJP spokesperson, she is quite a hit with journalists, giving them quotable quotes and lucid explanations of the party’s position on various issues. “It is a great responsibility and I have to be very careful and clear when I speak. Even one small slip can embarrass the party,” she points out.

As for the allegations against the BJP as a communalistic party, she retorts rather emphatically, “In my 34-year-long association with the BJP I have interacted with all the big names and the rank and file -- never did I find any
communal element here. Exposing pseudo-secularism is not being communal.”She attributes her achievements to the support and understanding she got from her husband and in-laws. “Support is absolute and interference is nil,” is her succinct summing up of her husband’s role in her work. This is possible only when there is complete understanding and each partner has his or her own distinctiveness. Swaraj Kaushal, too, has many a credit to his name. He was the Governor of Mizoram (giving Sushma the ‘honour of being the First Lady of the State’). Also, as Sushma says, she herself developed the fine art of switching roles with lightning speed. “As soon as I stepped into my house, my Minister’s mask would fall off. It would be replaced by that of a wife, mother and daughter-in-law.” She has a 30-year-old daughter, Bansuri who plays hostess to all her mother’s guests. “When I call home with instructions, it is my daughter who takes down the details -- ‘how many are expected, is it just for tea and snacks or should I get dinner ready as well?’ -- in a way she has overtaken me,” says Sushma with a pleased laugh, perhaps thinking of her complete divorce from the kitchen during childhood.

Her one regret is that she lost the Lok Sabha polls, not once, not twice, but four times. “I felt that despite being popular with the electorate, I lost, I realised that in elections the personality does not dominate at all. It is other issues that decide the course of events…” she remarks wishfully. And even as she makes steady progress in her political career, she reiterates that it is her husband and daughter who matter to her. “I do not regret that I took a two-year break to look after Bansuri… and I will always remember the time when Swaraj was on board the flight that was hijacked to Lahore after Operation Blue star. I was terrified, yes. But there was not one weak moment when I thought that the Government should negotiate with the militants.” It is this courage of conviction that gives Sushma her strength. For someone who has made the most of her opportunities, her abiding faith in being sincere and working hard should help her to go beyond rhetoric in what should be a long political career.
(INAV) l