Chandigarh: People in Haryana are in a state of shock at the demise of their illustrious daughter, Sushma Swaraj, with the residents of Ambala Cantonment, where the former external affairs minister spent her childhood days, recalling her affectionate and caring nature.
The veteran leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who brought a rare empathy and a human approach to India's foreign diplomacy, passed away on Tuesday night following a massive cardiac arrest. She was 67.
Swaraj was a member of the Haryana legislative assembly from 1977-82 and 1987-90 during the days of the then state governments headed by Chaudhary Devi Lal.
Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij, who represents the Ambala Cantonment Assembly constituency, described Swaraj as a leader with rare qualities and said he was deeply saddened by her death.
He recalled that Swaraj was elected as an MLA for the first time at a young age of 25 and later, went on to become the education minister of Haryana.
"In 1977, it so happened that the ticket was first given to Som Prakash Chopra, who was jailed during Emergency. But for some reasons, when he did not enter the fray, the ticket was given to Sushmaji, who won, and the Janata Party government was formed," Vij said.
In 1990, Swaraj moved to the Rajya Sabha, Vij, who has been representing the Ambala Cantonment constituency since then, said.
The minister told PTI that Swaraj was raised by her maternal grandparents after the demise of her mother.
Right from her childhood, she was fond of taking part in debates and contests in school, those who lived close to the family residence in the B C Bazaar area of Ambala Cantonment, recalled.
The departed leader's brother Gulshan currently stays with his family in the house.
Swaraj went to the SD College at Ambala Cantonment and later, pursued a law course from the Panjab University in Chandigarh.
Gauri, who works at the family's Ambala Cantonment house, was inconsolable on learning about Swaraj's demise.
"She was very nice. She had come here a few months ago. When she learnt that I had two daughters, she told me to give them a good education and offered any help that might be needed from her side to ensure that they got the best facilities.
"We used to call Sushmaji 'buaji'. I am deeply saddened at her demise. At the same time, I am also proud of the fact that she rose to such heights in her life and became a role model for millions," she said.
Shyam Bihari, an elderly man who lives near Swaraj's family house, said the departed leader was interested in debates and lectures since she was very young. "From Class 6, she had shown inclination towards politics and later, she realised what she had aimed for. She was very affectionate, caring and ever ready to help. To render help to any genuine person who was in need, she did not care even if he was a supporter of a rival political party," he said.
Another man, in his 60s, recalled that Swaraj used to fetch a bucket of milk early in the morning from a place near her house in Ambala Cantonment. "There were occasions when the milk fell after the bucket was hit by a ball as I, along with my friends, used to play cricket in the morning. But Sushmaji never got angry at us and always used to tell us to continue playing," he said.
Dinesh Aggarwal, another resident of Ambala Cantonment, recalled how Swaraj once rushed out late in the evening to meet him at her Delhi residence."When I reached her Delhi residence, her aides told me madam would not meet anyone as she had just returned from a busy day in Parliament. However, when she learnt that Vicky, which is my nickname, had come from Ambala to meet her, she rushed out to meet me. We talked for nearly 20 minutes," he said.
Reactions expressing grief at the former Delhi chief minister's demise poured in from other parts of Haryana as well. "I still cannot believe that she is not amongst us. Her death is a big loss to the nation," Lokesh Kumar, a resident of Hisar, said.
Political leaders from Haryana also mourned Swaraj's demise.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said he was deeply shocked to learn about the demise of Swaraj. "It is a personal loss for me," he said in a tweet.
"Her contributions to Haryana and India will never be forgotten. My deepest condolences to her bereaved family members. May god give her eternal peace," Khattar said.
Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said Swaraj's demise was a "personal loss" for him. "She was a person with rare qualities, ever ready to help others," he said.