| Sushma Swaraj at a news conference in Calcutta on Wednesday. Picture by Amit Datta
Port Blair, Sept. 22: Sushma Swaraj was briefly jolted out of her Savarkar satyagraha with Andaman holidaymakers twice confronting her for scuttling their Cellular Jail visit and almost coaxing an apology out of her.
Bombarding her with queries on why the BJP had imposed its political agenda on them, 14-year-old schoolgirl Priya Sharma today walked up to her on a flight from Port Blair and demanded to know why her family's holidays had been spoilt.
'We want to know why tourists were denied permission to visit the Cellular Jail. A visit to the Andamans is an expensive affair. Then why should we suffer for political parties' Why will you spoil our holidays' Priya, a Class XI student of a Delhi government school, asked.
Last night, a band of tourists had marched up to the hotel where Sushma was staying and protested against the harassment.
Sushma had landed at Port Blair yesterday along with some 150 BJP legislators to restore a plaque engraved with Hindu Mahasabha leader Veer Savarkar's words at the freedom fighters' memorial in the jail. The plaque had been removed on petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar's orders.
Fearing trouble, the Andaman district administration had clamped prohibitory orders under Sec. 144 on the jail premises from Saturday. All tourists were, therefore, barred from visiting the 698-cell jail and forced to forgo the famed light and sound show.
Twice bombarded by offended tourists, a red-faced Sushma almost apologised to the Indian Airlines passengers. 'We didn't know the Andaman district administration had barred tourists from visiting the jail for four days because of our agitation. We should have taken note of the plight of tourists and spoken to the administration.'
Her colleague Sahib Singh Verma later said the BJP should have publicly apologised to the tourists. 'We should not have spoilt their holidays,' he said at Calcutta airport. Murli Manohar Joshi was also part of the BJP team.
Priya's father R.K. Sharma, an officer with the Punjab National Bank's Delhi office, sounded as crestfallen as the schoolgirl. 'We were terribly upset when we were told the memorial would not be open to the public for four days.
'The two-way fares and other travelling expenses for a tourist amounts to almost Rs 20,000, leave alone lodging and food. But all my money has gone down the drain as I had to keep indoors for the last four days,' he rued on the plane.
Later, he alleged over phone from Delhi that the light and sound show was staged for an hour in the evening to 'please some media persons and a section of the BJP legislators.'
Another tourist from Chennai, Prashant, lamented: 'We came all the way from Chennai to visit the jail but were denied permission. This is a harrowing experience.'
A 60-year-old man from Calcutta said: 'The Cellular Jail is the main attraction for tourists in the Andaman island. If one misses it, the purpose of the visit is lost.'
The Andaman authorities said they had no option but to clamp the ban. 'We did it to avert any untoward incident. Political parties are out to capitalise on the Savarkar issue. On Monday, the Congress, too, put up a demonstration,' district superintendent of police A.K. Singh said.
The jail was thrown open to the public on February 11, 1979, by then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. It is witness to the torture of several Indian freedom fighters by the British.