New Delhi, Sept. 8: As she fights what increasingly seems a lonely and losing battle to block Narendra Modi’s anointment as candidate for Prime Minister, Sushma Swaraj will vouch that being a woman in the rough and tumble of Indian politics isn’t easy.
Especially so in a party whose ideological parent considered women persona non grata for decades.
When the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh eventually recognised the gender’s existence by creating a women’s wing, the mandate was clear. It was “matritva” or “enlightened motherhood” in practice, women were to be “caregivers”.
Sushma, in many ways a pioneering woman in the orthodox Sangh parivar, realised early on that the going could be tough, even brutish.
Her oratorical eloquence, energy and innate audacity, which led her to treat even a towering personality like Indira Gandhi as an equal, endeared her to the Sangh though she was a lateral entrant from the socialist family.
That her grandfather and father were swayamsevaks and that she had done a brief stint in the Sangh’s student wing perhaps smoothed her induction into the Jan Sangh in the 1970s.
After Vijayaraje Scindia, who was placed in a special niche because the Sangh and the Jan Sangh were awed by royalty, Sushma was only woman in the BJP to make the cut as a national level leader.
Yet, notwithstanding her potential for political success, she often got the wrong end of the stick. She fought back amazingly, without the crutch of a cabal until recently.
She once told this correspondent: “I have never done coterie politics, so I remain the same in adversity and prosperity. I don’t have fair weather friends who desert a leader when she’s down and out.”
Sushma has had few friends in her party, fair weather or genuine. Her peers, who included Pramod Mahajan and M. Venkaiah Naidu, never passed up a chance to “fix” her.
Just as she was settling in as information and broadcasting minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Mahajan pulled strings to get her relocated as Delhi chief minister six months before an election the BJP looked likely to lose. Vajpayee never came to her aid. Neither did L.K. Advani, the only steadfast ally she has ever had.
Sushma retaliated after a fashion. In 2000, at the party’s national executive meeting in Nagpur, she criticised the working of Advani’s home ministry before the media. She was given a berth in the next cabinet shuffle.
The BJP’s conspiracy theorists and the Sangh’s hawks, upset with Vajpayee for warming to Islamabad, construed Sushma’s statements as part of a project to foil a positive takeaway from the summit. Anyway, that was how the script played out. Since then, Sushma has been Advani’s most unwavering loyalist.
So, when it came to thwarting Modi’s elevation as the BJP’s supreme national leader, the duo worked in unison. Curiously,
Sushma was reticent when Modi was anointed the party’s national campaign committee head in Goa in June this year while her mentor openly displayed his pique.