Sushma Swaraj is no more and I can't believe this. The BJP leader and former external affairs minister was one of the towering leaders of our country who rose to new heights due to her sheer hard work and perseverance. According to me, Swaraj was the most popular mass leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and before present Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Her oratory skills, understanding of complex issues, balanced political line, popularity across all parties and command over language made her the stateswoman par excellence.
Swaraj's death at 67 is a shocker for several people but for me, it's a personal loss. I have never seen such a brilliant and wise orator in Indian politics, barring Vajpayee, in the last 30 to 35 years. She was the epitome of kindness, leadership and bravery.
I had the privilege of meeting Swaraj twice during my lifetime in 1996 and 2018. In 1996, Swaraj was BJP's candidate from South Delhi Lok Sabha constituency and pitted against Congress leader Kapil Sibal and former cricketer Manoj Prabhakar. She came to address a public meeting at Moti Bagh market in May 1996 along with other BJP leaders and was sitting on a stage with several garlands around her neck. I was just 10 at that time and went to meet her with my own garland. I greeted her and said, "Ma'am, not only you are going to win this seat but Atalji is also going to become the prime minister of this country."
Swaraj had a kidney transplant in 2016 and had opted out of contesting LS polls earlier this year for health reasons.
On hearing this, she instantly touched my cheek and said, "Thank You, Beta." She also greeted me with all the garlands she was wearing and allowed me to think of myself as the most important person sitting on the stage after her. Her charisma, motherly affection and energetic personality touched my heart and I became a huge fan of Sushmaji. She received 2,94,570 votes (nearly 56 per cent) in my constituency and defeated Kapil Sibal by over 1,10,000 votes, who received just 1,80,564 votes. Vajpayee also became the prime minister, though for just 13 days, and she was the information and broadcasting minister in his Cabinet.
I again met her exactly after 22 years in May 2018 during the Modi government's fourth-anniversary celebrations at Delhi's Ashok Hotel. She was the external affairs minister and I was the deputy editor representing my organisation of that time. She looked a bit tired and weak due to her health issues but was gracious and engaging. I greeted her with folded hands and asked her about her health. She replied with her most popular smile and said, "I am perfectly fine due to your best wishes and God." I tried to remind her about our first meeting in 1996 and explained the entire episode. She again smiled and said, "That was such a long ago. Yes, I came there to hold a meeting. Nice to meet you again. Bade ho gaye ho."
Sushmaji, it was indeed a nice meeting but unfortunately, it was our last meeting.