When Devi Lal sacked Sushma Swaraj

Then Haryana Chief Minister Devi Lal was reluctant to induct Sushma Swaraj in his cabinet in July 1977 as she was too young but within three months he announced her sacking at a public function citing incompetence.

But after then Janata Party President Chandra Shekhar's tough posturing, she stayed in the ministry and proved Devi Lal's assessment wrong as she became a leader of substance in BJP, her later political home, to become Chief Minister and at last country's first woman External Affairs Minister.

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Devi Lal, then a Janata Party leader, was reluctant to induct Swaraj, then 25-years-old, citing that she was "too young" but he agreed after Chandra Shekhar insisted that she should be in his team. Swaraj, who died on Tuesday night, was part of a legal team organised by anti-Emergency political grouping to challenge the arrests of opposition leaders, including George Fernandes.

The latest biography of Chandra Shekhar by Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh and research scholar Ravi Dutt Bajpai describes a meeting Swaraj and veteran socialist leader Madhu Limaye had with Chandra Shekhar to complain that she was being dismissed by Devi Lal.

During the meeting, Swaraj told Chandra Shekhar that she would resign to "save herself from embarrassment" but the latter tried to reassure her that Devi Lal could not take any "drastic step" without consulting the Janata Party central leadership.

Soon after Swaraj and Limaye left, Chandra Shekhar came to know from news agencies that Devi Lal announced her sacking at a function in Faridabad as " she was not considered competent enough". Chandra Shekhar advised Devi Lal to reinstate her but he was "adamant" that he would not take her back.

"Chandra Shekhar was at his wits' end and told Devi Lal that if Sushma Swaraj was not reinstated as a Minister, then he too could not stay the Chief Minister. Chandra Shekhar declared that as party chief it was within his mandate to suspend Devi Lal from the primary membership of the party...Devi Lal was unprepared for such straight talk," the book says.

Devi Lal then rushed to Delhi to meet his mentor Charan Singh, who asked Chandra Shekhar about the developments. Chandra Shekhar told Singh that Devi Lal took action against Swaraj without consulting the central leadership and announced the decision in a public function.

Charan Singh “lost his temper” at this and asked Chandra Shekhar to immediately expel Devi Lal and the matter was settled there.

Swaraj eventually stayed in the cabinet with Chandra Shekhar advising Devi Lal to look after her as his own daughter, the book says.

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