Sushma Swaraj (1952-2019): She loved and served to conquer
As an external affairs minister of India, Sushma Swaraj lived under the shadow of Narendra Modi owing to the latter's larger than life presence in the country's foreign policy and worldwide engagements that entailed an abundance of travels.
But just when it appeared that Modi was the de facto foreign minister of India overshadowing Sushma Swaraj, she reinvented her ministry with such compassion and empathy that she left an indelible mark as India's foreign minister and set a precedent hard for any successor to emulate.
With a broad trademark smile and quintessential Indianness complete with the large bindi on her forehead and her parting of hair shining with sindoor that is traditionally applied by married Hindu women, she became a foreign minister with a difference. She is the one who introduced "Twitter Diplomacy" in Indian foreign ministry and with a very human face playing a good Samaritan and minister in need to everyone.
She was there to help out everyone in distress- irrespective of one's race, nationality and religion- as the external affairs minister of India. All one would have to do is to send her a tweet. Sushma Swaraj, whom many see as grace and dignity personified, would be there to lend a helping hand with prompt action.
While India was already saddened by her absence in the ministry in the second Modi government, the news of her demise at the age of 67 from a heart attack on Tuesday night came as rude shock to every Indian cutting across political divide.
As Prime Minister Narnedra Modi tweeted, indeed "a glorious chapter in Indian politics comes to an end."
"India grieves the demise of a remarkable leader who devoted her life to public service and bettering lives of the poor. Sushma Swaraj Ji was one of her kind, who was a source of inspiration for crores of people," said the Prime Minister. For once, no one can agree more.
Swaraj in December 2016 underwent a kidney transplant. But of late she was not keeping well and had chosen to not be a part of the second Narendra Modi government though she was seen at the swearing-in ceremony of the Modi government that came back to power with a thumping majority mandate.
A member of parliament for seven terms she was the leader of opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha and in the first government of Narendra Modi she became the External Affairs Minister.
The second woman to hold the post after late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj served as the Minister of External Affairs from May 2014 to May 2019. Before her entry into Indian Parliament she was an MLA from Haryana (during 1977-1982 and 1987-1990), and once from Delhi in 1998. Swaraj had started her political journey with the BJP student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in the 1970s.
At the age of 25 in 1977, she was the youngest cabinet minister of Haryana. She also served as 5th Chief Minister of Delhi for a little over two months in 1998.
Her lawyer husband, Swaraj Kaushal, was closely associated with the socialist leader George Fernandes and Sushma Swaraj became a part of George Fernandes's legal defence team in 1975. She actively participated in Jayaprakash Narayan's Total Revolution Movement. Joining BJP was but a natural choice for her later.
While she was an impeccable orator who spoke chaste Hindi and had equal command over English and had a dignified presence as a politician and front ranking BJP leader all her life, it was her role as the foreign minister that endeared her to every Indian.
So much so that despite being a minister and member of Hindu nationalist BJP, last year she became a victim of radical right wing social media trolls and was accused of appeasing Muslims with her critics on Twitter not even sparing her husband, Swaraj Kaushal.
Sushma was on the receiving end of backlash and trolls after she had a Passport Seva Kendra official in Lucknow transferred for allegedly harassing a Hindu-Muslim intefaith couple.
Sushma Swaraj was considered a personal favourite of BJP patriarch L K Advani and had a close relationship with him and always credited her own role as a BJP leader in various capacities to Advani. Swaraj had also contested against Sonia Gandhi from the Bellary constituency in Karnataka in 1999 but lost. Her party members said despite losing from Bellary, she had kept in touch with the constituency having developed a special bond with the people there.
Swaraj had also held the important portfolio of Information and Broadcasting in the BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
She was also a Minister of Health, Family Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs from January 2003 until May 2004 and as Union Health Minister she set up six All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Bhopal (MP), Bhubaneshwar (Odisha), Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Patna (Bihar), Raipur (Chhattisgarh) and Rishikesh(Uttrakhand).
According to media reports, her speech in Rajya Sabha on the day the Bill on creation of Telangana state was passed was considered as one of the best in recent times.
For her role as a minister a tweet away, Sushma Swaraj was listed among 100 leading global thinkers for the year 2016 by international magazine Foreign Policy for 'fashioning a novel brand of Twitter diplomacy'.
Sushma Swaraj was married to Swaraj Kaushal, a fellow advocate at the Supreme Court (he was later the Governor of Mizoram) and it was the political movement during the Emergency that had brought them together. The couple have a daughter, Bansuri, who is a graduate from Oxford University and a Barrister at Law from Inner Temple.
A party loyalist till the end her last tweet was addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi only a few hours before her end came. In her last tweet Sushma had congratulated the Prime Minister for the move to revoke Article 370 in Kashmir, posting that "I was waiting to see this day in my lifetime."