In the Ambala Cantonment neighbourhood where Sushma Swaraj grew up, old-timers remember her with fondness. Right from her childhood, she was fond of taking part in debates and contests in school, those who lived close to the family home in Cantonment’s BC Bazaar area recalled. “From Class 6, she had shown an inclination towards politics and later she realised what she had aimed for,” Shyam Bihari, an elderly man who lives in the same neighbourhood, told reporters after the news of the BJP leader’s death on Tuesday night came in.
“She was very affectionate, caring and ever ready to help. To render help to any genuine person who was in need, she did not care even if he was a supporter of a rival political party,” he said. Another man, now in his 60s, recalled that Swaraj used to fetch milk for her family in the morning, around the time he and his friends played cricket in the neighbourhood. At times, the cricket ball hit would hit the pail, spilling the milk.
“But Sushmaji never got angry at us and always used to tell us to continue playing,” he said. Swaraj went to the SD College in Ambala Cantonment and later pursued a law course at the Panjab University in Chandigarh. Her brother Gulshan currently stays with his family at the same Ambala house. Gauri, a domestic help at the house, was inconsolable on learning about the former external affairs minister’s death. “She was very nice. She had come here a few months ago. When she learnt that I had two daughters, she told me to give them a good education and offered any help that might be needed from her side to ensure that they got the best facilities,” she said.
“We used to call Sushmaji ‘buaji’. I am deeply saddened at her death. At the same time, I am also proud of the fact that she rose to such heights in her life and became a role model for millions,” she said. Dinesh Aggarwal, another Ambala Cantonment resident, recalled how Swaraj once rushed to the door late in the evening to meet him at her Delhi home. “When I reached her Delhi residence, her aides told me madam would not meet anyone as she had just returned from a busy day in Parliament. However, when she learnt that Vicky, which is my nickname, had come from Ambala to meet her, she rushed out to meet me,” he said. “We talked for nearly 20 minutes.”
People from other parts of the state also expressed grief. “I still cannot believe that she is not amongst us. Her death is a big loss to the nation,” Hisar resident Lokesh Kumar said. Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij, who represents the Ambala Cantonment Assembly constituency, described Swaraj as a leader with rare qualities and said he was deeply saddened by her death. He recalled that Swaraj was elected as an MLA for the first time at a young age of 25, and later went on to become Haryana’s education minister.
“In 1977, it so happened that the ticket was first given to Som Prakash Chopra, who was jailed during Emergency. But for some reasons, when he did not enter the fray, the ticket was given to Sushmaji, who won, and the Janata Party government was formed,” Vij said. In 1990, Swaraj moved to the Rajya Sabha. Vij has been representing the Ambala Cantonment constituency since then.
The minister told PTI that Swaraj was raised by her maternal grandparents after the death of her mother. The veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader died Tuesday night following a massive cardiac arrest. She was 67. Swaraj was a member of the Haryana legislative assembly from 1977-82 and 1987-90.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar mourned her death.”It is a personal loss for me,” said in a tweet. “Her contributions to Haryana and India will never be forgotten. My deepest condolences to her bereaved family members. May God give her eternal peace,” he said. Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda too described her death a “personal loss”. “She was a person with rare qualities, ever ready to help others,” he said.