GHAR ke chirag ne ghar ko aag laga di ! This famous line was spoken by Sushma Swaraj after she lost to Sheila Dikshit in the 1998 assembly elections in Delhi. She’d been drafted in as BJP CM only 45 days before elections, so her preparatory period was very short. Sahib Singh Verma who had been removed as CM was an unhappy man, as were several local Delhi BJP politicians who did not like an ‘outsider’ being dumped on them. So there was hardly any cooperation from local workers and the fizz in her campaign was gone.
After the loss, in a veiled reference to the obvious anti-party activity by the workers, Sushma Swaraj famously told a television channel, “Ghar ke chirag ne ghar ko aag laga di.” Unlike many of her ilk, she was very punctual, a trait that I noticed quite often. One day Anshu Prakash, a bureaucrat who was close to her, asked me if I’d like to travel alongside her during the 1998 Delhi election campaign. I readily agreed, reaching her official bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi (I think on Tees January Lane) about 11 in the morning, sometime in November 1998. We drove out in her official car, and perched happily on the back seat began to talk politics. Before leaving her bungalow she told her staff that she’d be back by 1.30 p.m. as she was expecting visitors for lunch. She spoke at 5-6 places, at times delivering punch lines in chaste Haryanvi to woo her audience. The main issue related to the rising price of onions. At 1.29 p.m. her car entered the driveway inside her bungalow. Awesome punctuality!
She was one of few senior BJP leaders who vehemently opposed the choice of Narendra Modi for leading BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign in 2014. Was she unable to handle Mr Modi’s rising popularity and did she harbor her own prime ministerial ambitions? Perhaps yes. But the open opposition to his candidature couldn’t have gone down well with the would-be-PM.
After the BJP won the elections, Sushma Ji was accommodated in the cabinet, that too as foreign minister, perhaps in deference to the wishes of L K Advani. But the foreign ministry was run by the PM’s office. Almost everyone knows that important postings and appointments were carried out by the PMO. She never accompanied the PM on important foreign visits, but instead continued to tweet her concern for overseas Indians. Even the Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry of which she was in charge initially was taken away and shut down.
All this must have left her very bitter and one could sense her building frustrations. Politically marginalized, she absolutely stopped talking to the media. I was one of few who got an interview with her early on, in May 2014 on the day she became a federal cabinet minister. The resentment of getting sidelined must have taken a daily toll internally, and her health deteriorated at a rapid clip.
Personally I think it may have been better for her if she’d chosen to step down, and kept away from the political scene. The body—her ghar—could not cope with the accentuating frustrations that she had to fight daily. In the end, ghar ke chirag ne phir se ghar ko aag laga di.
Could she have willed it otherwise? Is too much ambition a bane? The answer, my friend, as Bob Dylan would say, is blowin’ in the wind…