NEW DELHI: Describing Sushma Swaraj as a great parliamentarian and a lady of "extraordinary gifts", Congress leader Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday said she shared a warm personal relationship with her and felt her loss greatly.
Swaraj had unsuccessfully contested against Gandhi in 1999 from Bellary Lok Sabha constituency in Karnataka, an election that attracted nationwide attention as it was Sonia Gandhi's electoral debut.
"In our many years together as colleagues in the Lok Sabha, we developed a warm personal relationship and I feel her loss greatly," Gandhi said in her condolence letter to Swaraj's husband Swaraj Kaushal.
"I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing away of your beloved wife Smt Sushma Swaraj. She was a lady of extraordinary gifts, her courage, determination, dedication and ability manifest in every position she held," the Congress parliamentary party leader said.
"Above all, it was her warm personal qualities that brought a special lustre to her years in public and political life," the United Progressive Alliance chairperson added.
Gandhi and Swaraj shared a close bond in Parliament and were seen meeting each other very warmly at social functions and at functions despite their political rival.
After the 2004 election, when the UPA came to power, Swaraj had said she would shave her head if Gandhi became the prime minister as the Congress leader was of Italian origin.
"Sushma ji was a superb orator, a great parliamentarian and had a rare gift for friendship that won her affection and admiration across the political spectrum," Gandhi said in her letter.
The Congress leader said Swaraj made herself accessible to even the humblest person and established a warm rapport with people from all walks of life.
With her empathy and compassion, she gave Indian diplomacy a human face as she reached out to help every Indian citizen in distress, Gandhi said.
"The same courage and grit that was a hallmark of Sushma-ji's political life, she showed in her personal life as well, as she faced her serious ailments with incredible fortitude," she said.
Swaraj passed away on Tuesday night in Delhi at the age of 67 after suffering a massive cardiac arrest.
The Congress leader said Swaraj left "far too young" as she had so much more to contribute to national life.
"That makes her death even more tragic," she said.
Conveying her condolences to Swaraj's husband and daughter Bansuri, the UPA chairperson termed it a "cruel loss" for them.
"You must draw solace from the fact that Sushmaji lived a life of honour, filled with achievement and contributions to the country she loved; respected and admired by all Indians," Gandhi said.
"And she went as she had lived - active and engaged till the very end," the Congress leader said.