"Sushmaji shot into to fame in Karnataka when she contested against then Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the October 1999 mid-term Lok Sabha elections from Bellary in the state's northwest region. Though lost the election, she won the hearts of the people with her graceful conduct and decent campaign, a former BJP lawmaker G. Madhusudan told here.
Sushma passed away at the state-run AIMS hospital in the national capital after a cardiac arrest. She was 67.
Sushma's connection with the southern state dates back to the mid-1970s, when she was lodged for over a year from June 1975 in the Bangalore central jail after the Emergency was declared.
"Sushma was among the political leaders of the Jan Sangh party who were lodged in the jail along with our party's stalwarts Atal Behri Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Madhu Dandavate and others in the Emergency era. She learnt to speak Kannada during her stay in the jail so well she not only remembered since then, but also campaigned effectively in the local language to connect with the native people," reminisced the party's three-time legislative council member Madhusudan.
Though Sushma lost in the only parliamentary election she contested from the state, she maintained her association with the rich mining town, about 300 km from Bengaluru, and its people, especially women folk.
Sushma used to visit Bellary every year since 2000 for over a decade during Shravan month (August) as per the Hindu calendar to perform 'Varamahalakshmi puja' (worship), which is done only by married women in south India on one of the four Fridays in the rainy month for peace, happiness and prosperity by invoking the blessing of Hindu Goddesss of wealth Lakshmi.
"Sushma was also one of the party's national leaders who campaigned across Karnataka during the general elections since March 1977, as she was popular and fluent in Kannada to speak and as a symbol of Indian women and their hoary traditions," added Madhusudan.
In a related development, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda expressed sadness on Sushma's death and termed her departure a loss to the nation.
"May God give her family courage to bear the pain," tweeted Gowda, who is also the supremo of the state's regional party Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), which was till recently in power in the state.
( With inputs from IANS )