BALLARI/BENGALURU; Much before illegal mining put Ballari on the national map for all the wrong reasons, the district had played an important role in the BJP growth story in Karnataka, perhaps in South India.After the 1999 LS polls, when Swaraj contested against Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, the party was able to make inroads into what was a Congress bastion, and subsequently, the party came to power in the state. Sonia won the election with a margin of 56,100 votes.
Prior to that election, the party had hardly any presence in the district, barring loyal supporters like Dr Srinivas Murthy. The election results were not surprising, considering Ballari was a Congress bastion, but it surely dented the party with a reduced margin. Sushma charmed people with her oratory skills, and played up ‘Videshi-Swadeshi’ slogans. “She was a tall leader and people started looking towards her. She won hearts by speaking in Kannada. Sonia won and left Ballari, while Sushma lost and continued to remain with Ballari,” said Dr BK Sunder.
“That election helped the party to a great extent as it galvanized the party cadre across the state,” said senior BJP leader and former Karnataka Legislative Council chairman DH Shankaramurthy.” She learnt Kannada to connect with the local people and worked very hard to understand local issues. She would campaign from 8am to 9pm, and then prepare for the next day’s campaign,” said Shankaramurthy.
“She was the one who laid the party’s foundation here. Even after she became Union Minister, she did many things for Ballari, like sanctioning FM radio when she was Minister for Information and Broadcasting in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. She organised a mega health camp in Ballari when she was a Union Minister for Health. As Minister for External Affairs, she started a passport office here,” added Parvathi Indu Shekar, former mayor of Ballari. Gurulinganagouda, a BJP leader who campaigned for her in 1999, said she had held over 500 meetings in gram panchayats and taluks then, where she motivated the BJP cadre.
Having lost the election, Sushma assured the voters that she would return to Ballari every year on the occasion of ‘Varamahalakshmi’ festival, as a daughter of Ballari. The Reddy brothers and B Sriramulu ensured that an annual mass marriage, which they organised every year, coincided with her visit to Ballari every year.