The Ballari polls and the multi-layered politician

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on August 08, 2019 Published on August 08, 2019

Sushma Swaraj contested against Sonia Gandhi from the Ballari Lok Sabha seat in1999. Though defeated, Swaraj proved herself to be a worthy rival by narrowing the victory margin to 56,000 votes   -  -

Not many national leaders, especially those from North India, use Karnataka as a platform to fight elections.

But there were two exceptions. The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who fought against Veerendra Patil in Chikmagalur by-elections for the Lok Sabha in 1978. She won handsomely by 70,000 votes and her victory was seen as a turning point in her political career after the opposition candidate, Raj Narain, defeated her in her stronghold Rae Bareli in 1977 Lok Sabha elections. That’s when the Janata Party come to power at the Centre.

The next was Sonia Gandhi who contested from the Ballari constituency in 1999 against the late Sushma Swaraj. Gandhi defeated Swaraj by over 56,000 votes as the constituency was a traditional stronghold of the Congress. However, Swaraj, with her charm and grace, kept winning hearts during her campaign and was an instant hit among the voters. In contrast, Gandhi was seen as an ice maiden, and because of security reasons, hardly had an opportunity to get closer to the voters and kept a distance from journalists.

Swaraj easily made friends because of her natural exuberance, ability to strike friendship with journalists. Being a polyglot, she was able to learn Kannada quite quickly much to the surprise of her colleagues and even gave election speeches in the language. She turned out to be a worthy rival to Sonia Gandhi. Sonia was expected to win by a huge margin but managed to do so by only over 56,000 votes. The margin of victory would have been lesser had one of the opposition parties held itself back from putting up a candidate for the elections. Gandhi polled 51.70 per cent of the votes while Swaraj managed to poll 44.70 per cent.

But what Swaraj achieved during her campaign was something remarkable. She laid the foundation for her party’s victory during subsequent elections from the Ballari Lok Sabha seat. The BJP, since then, including the 2019 election, has won the seat four times and is now considered a safe seat for the party.

Rapport with journalists

Almost every journalist who covered that election, has an interesting anecdote to narrate during their interaction with Swaraj. One involved a report about how nervous she was during the campaign. The report in a national daily had mentioned her nervousness and the next day, Swaraj, had buttonholed that reporter and kept asking him whether she really looked nervous. Only after getting him to say that she didn’t look nervous and another reporter pitching in with his comments that she was dressed like a bride, did she allow that reporter to leave.

Another involved her proximity to the infamous Reddy Brothers, the mining barons in the constituency. There were rumours that they had bankrolled her election campaign and a photoshoppedpicture, to show her blessing the Reddys, was widely circulated. She could never live down her association with them, though those close to her say that over a period of time, she deliberately distanced herself from them.

But Swaraj never forgot to visit her Ballari to celebrate the Varamahalakshmi festival there until ill-health forced her to stop her visits in the recent years. The festival falls on August 9 this year and her absence will be missed by almost everybody in Ballari, who used to look forward to the visit of this diminutive lady who had, exactly 20 years ago, charmed her way into their hearts.

Published on August 08, 2019

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