Indore: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday announced that she will not contest the next Lok Sabha general elections due to health reasons. The 66-year-old leader, who is serving her fourth term in the House and has long been her party’s most prominent woman face, said BJP will take a final call on the issue.
Swaraj told reporters at Indore that after her kidney transplant operation in December 2016, doctors had advised her to stay away from dust, which has stopped her from attending programmes in open places. “Although my party has the right to decide my candidature, due to health reasons, I have decided that I will not contest the next Lok Sabha elections,” Swaraj said.
Swaraj, second term MP from Vidisha Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh, said that despite holding important posts of Leader of Opposition and Minister of External Affairs, she regularly visited all the eight assembly segments in her constituency. “In December 2016, after the kidney transplant, doctors advised me to stay away from dust and that is why I have been unable to take part in poll meetings for the last one year,” she said.
She said she could not participate in programmes being organised at open places due to health reasons and could only take part in such events in closed-door auditoria. “I have also told my leadership that I have to stay away from dust due to health reasons. I can go to foreign countries, but following the advice of the doctors to stay away from dust I am unable to visit Vidisha as mostly it comprises of rural areas only,” she said.
“I have toured my constituency maximum number of times as a member of the Lok Sabha among the MPs from Madhya Pradesh. Though I have not visited my seat for the last two years, I fulfilled all the promises I have made to the people of Vidisha sitting in Delhi,” she said.
Eight districts of Madhya Pradesh including Vidisha were listed among the most backward districts in the country by the NITI Aayog in its report released earlier this year. In April, Swaraj had said her constituency was backward due to the poor monitoring of welfare schemes.
Last year, posters showing Swaraj as ‘missing’ had popped up in the constituency. “Gumshuda Saansad Ki Talash” (in search of a missing MP), they read. The posters, which also listed problems in her constituency, once represented by late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, went viral in the social media. Swaraj’s husband Swaraj Kaushal posted “thank you” on Twitter and said even Milkha Singh stopped running.
A leader who could sway crowds by her oratory in Hindi, Swaraj is among the few top politicians capable of speaking in English with equal ease. She was the youngest cabinet minister at 25 when she joined the Haryana government in 1977 and the first woman chief minister of Delhi.
She is also the first woman external affairs minister of India. Indira Gandhi had held the portfolio while she was the prime minister. Swaraj has also served in the Rajya Sabha for three terms and was a member of the Haryana Assembly- the state she comes from - twice.
She started her political life with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the RSS’ student wing, and later joined the BJP. She was the Information and Broadcasting Minister in the 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1996 and got the Cabinet portfolio again after he led the BJP to power in 1998.
Swaraj’s most notable political battle was the one against the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Bellary in 1999 Lok Sabha polls. She was her party’s nationalist woman counter to Gandhi, often attacked by the BJP for her Italian origins.
Swaraj’s intensive campaign, during which she gained proficiency in Kannada, won her innumerable local hearts with her speeches in their language, but Gandhi, who was fighting her first Lok Sabha election in a region then seen as her party’s pocket borough, got better of her. Swaraj fell short of victory but grew in stature.
Long seen as a protege of veteran BJP leader L K Advani, she also was the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha between 2009-14.