Sushma Swaraj: BJP's most powerful woman leader

Sushma Swaraj: BJP's most powerful woman leader

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj.

After Sushma Swaraj replaced LK Advani as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha in 2009, there were many who thought that being decreed as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general election would be the next logical step. But the blockbuster victory scripted by Narendra Modi-led BJP in Gujarat in the 2012 assembly polls altered the situation dramatically.

The RSS, desperate to dislodge the Congress-led UPA from the Centre, forced the BJP to rally behind Mr Modi. In September last year, the Gujarat chief minister was declared the party's presumptive prime minister, brushing aside objections from Mr Advani and Mrs Swaraj.

A powerful and articulate orator, Mrs Swaraj, 62, has had a brilliant political career so far. In 1977, at the age of 25, she became the country's youngest cabinet minister of a state, in this case Haryana. She also enjoys the distinction of the first-ever woman spokesperson of a national party, and in October, 1998, she became Delhi's first woman chief minister, even though her party lost in the assembly polls held soon after.

Her maiden effort to enter the Lok Sabha in 1980 too had ended in defeat at the hands of the Congress' Chiranji Lal Sharma in Karnal. He snubbed her challenge again in 1984, and also in 1989. A year later, she was elected to the Rajya Sabha.

It was during Mr Advani's Somnath-Ayodhya Rath Yatra in 1990 that Mrs Swaraj, along with other younger leaders such as KN Govindacharya, Pramod Mahajan, Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh, first showed their spark. Mr Modi, too, came into prominence around the same time.

The BJP decided to field Mrs Swaraj from South Delhi in 1996 in an attempt to facilitate her passage to the Lok Sabha for the first time. She won comfortably. She was re-elected from the constituency in 1998, and was appointed as the information and broadcasting minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

In 1999, she faced off with Sonia Gandhi in Bellary, a constituency in Karnataka from where the Congress had never lost till then. The BJP leader impressed the electorate with a smattering of Kannada in her speeches. Mrs Gandhi had to work really hard to ensure her victory. She won by a margin of just 56,100 votes. It was during her campaign in Bellary that Mrs Swaraj came in contact with the Reddy brothers, the mining barons.

In 2000, Mrs Swaraj was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh (later Uttarakhand), and was promptly made the information and broadcasting minister by Mr Vajpayee.

After the NDA suffered a surprise defeat in 2004, Mrs Swaraj courted controversy by vowing to shave off her head if Mrs Gandhi was elected as the country's prime minister. The Congress president eventually installed Manmohan Singh as the prime minister, leaving Mrs Swaraj, and her party, red-faced.

In 2006, Mrs Swaraj was returned to the Rajya Sabha, but this time from Madhya Pradesh. In 2009, she contested the parliamentary election from Vidisha, and romped home comfortably by a margin of 3.89 lakh votes.

After Mr Modi was declared as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Mrs Swaraj has openly identified herself with the dissident camp led by Mr Advani.

Mrs Swaraj, who earned a degree in law from Punjab University, Chandigarh, was a practicing lawyer in Supreme Court before she formally joined politics. She is married to former Mizoram governor Swaraj Kaushal, and the couple have a daughter who too has completed law from Oxford University. 
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