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August 21, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Sushma Swaraj

'This is an election to fight for national pride'

Sushma Swaraj On Wednesday morning at 0200 hours, the Bharatiya Janata Party's most prominent woman politician, Sushma Swaraj woke to attend a telephone call. Party general secretary M Venkaiah Naidu was at the other end. "You are the candidate from Bellary. Please take the 6.15 am flight to Bangalore," Naidu requested.

Swaraj, who had announced her decision not to contest the general election, did not protest. For the stakes were high -- she is being pitted against Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Swaraj packed her suitcase and left for Bangalore from where a helicopter flew her to Bellary. Fifteen minutes after Sonia filed her nomination, Swaraj submitted her papers.

Thus Bellary, in north Karnataka became the most exciting constituency in the country.

Since then Swaraj has stayed on in Bellary. She does not plan to return to Delhi till September 5, election day in the constituency. "I am now searching for a house so that I am one of the residents of Bellary," she says, even as she huddles together with party workers in Room 109 at the Hotel Pola Paradise.

She opens her conversation with BJP leaders in Kannada. "I learnt a few sentences when I campaigned against Indira Gandhi in the 1978 Lok Sabha by-election in Chikmagalur," she says even as Bellary district BJP treasurer Radhakrishna Kedia walks in to brush up her Kannada. "Learning Kannada is important so that I can talk to the people directly and know their problems," Swaraj told George Iype, explaining why this election for her is "a fight for national pride."

You had declared you would not contest the Lok Sabha election. Why did you change your mind?

I decided to contest all because of Sonia Gandhi. It was not my personal decision. It was a collective decision from the BJP and our alliance partners that I am the best candidate to fight Sonia in Bellary.

What is going to be your campaign theme?

Swadeshi versus videshi. I am not questioning Sonia's citizenship and her rights in this country as a daughter-in-law. I have especially told my party workers to be extremely decent and nice to Sonia Gandhi the person.

I am here to defend our nation's self pride. As a daughter-in-law, Sonia is entitled to our love and respect. But the Congress has fielded Sonia in Bellary not to make her an MP from this constituency but to make her the prime minister of India.

By contesting from Bellary, Sonia is giving the impression that "you Indians are fools." I feel allowing a person of foreign origin to become prime minister is an insult to India. Therefore, for me this is not an election to become an MP. It is an election to fight for India's national pride.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said Sonia's foreign origin is not the real issue for the party this election.

Vajpayeeji said a person's foreign origin is not the issue at stake. The issue is at stake whether a foreigner should become the prime minister of India or not. Therefore, fighting Sonia and exposing her overambition to become the country's prime minister is our national mission.

For the people of Bellary, if Sonia is a foreigner, you are also an outsider.

No, I am not an outsider like Sonia. I am a Hindustani. I am overwhelmed by the love and affection of the local people. I had come here for electioneering before. Karnataka is one south Indian state that has always fascinated me. So I think it is God's will that I should win from Bellary.

But Bellary has been a Congress stronghold since 1952 and the BJP has little support here. So how will you turn the electoral tide in your favour?

I agree that Bellary has been a traditional Congress supporter all these years. But remember, in the last 12 parliamentary elections, a Hindustani contested and won from here. Bellary has never returned a foreigner to Parliament. Therefore, this time, I am sure the BJP will win hands down.

Will the pro-Vajpayee wave seen across the country help you in Bellary?

Certainly, there is the pro-Vajpayee wave here also. But I depend on my own USP to win the election. Remember, I am not a candidate of the BJP alone. I am a combined candidate of the BJP, the Lok Shakti and Janata Dal. So we all have united to defeat the Congress. Non-Congressism has become our symbol.

Why do you think Sonia chose Bellary?

Sheer arrogance and insincerity. Isn't Sonia showing sheer insincerity to the people of Bellary by choosing a safe constituency from the South? She wanted to win from a seat where there is no resistance.

The Congress tried to keep her nomination a closely guarded secret to ensure that the BJP does not put up a good candidate. But we have turned the tables against the Congress and Sonia. Now the Congress workers are demoralised in Bellary because they know I am here to give the toughest fight to their party president.

What will you tell the people during the campaign?

I will convince the electorate the folly of electing a foreigner as our country's prime minister. I am so excited that fighting Sonia has become a mission and a cause for me. Beside the foreigner issue, may I ask Sonia why Bellary has remained one of the poorest and backward constituencies in the country despite returning 12 Congress MPs?

The Congress has failed miserably to look after the people of Bellary. Once I win from Bellary I will have a close interaction with the constituency, regardless of the position I might hold in Delhi. I will do for Bellary what I have done for South Delhi.

Does the Gandhi name and fame worry you?

Not at all. I am not a less known person in the country. In fact, Sonia should be worried thinking of her future once she gets defeated here.

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