Sushma Swaraj: A foreign minister with the lowest profile

  • Rezaul H Laskar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 16, 2015 11:41 IST

Sushma Swaraj will flag off a batch of pilgrims bound for Mansarovar on Tuesday, the latest in a series of low-profile events that underscores how the 63-year-old foreign minister has remained on the margins of policy making.

Since getting the portfolio last year, Swaraj has largely kept busy with what many see as non-events such as sundry international conferences, a ground-breaking ceremony for a university and the launch of an online system to bring back bodies of Indians who die abroad, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done almost all the foreign policy heavy lifting.

Now at the centre of a political storm for helping disgraced former IPL chief Lalit Modi obtain British travel papers, the BJP leader is fighting off calls by the opposition for her resignation.

In the recent past, Swaraj has had to make do with being the face of the Indian government at such events as the inauguration of the Indian Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta in April, the “Growth Net Summit 2015” in New Delhi in March and an international conference on “Indian Diaspora & Cultural Heritage: Past, Present and Future” in New Delhi in February.

Swaraj has largely been conspicuous by her absence during high-profile foreign visits by Prime Minister Modi, except for his trip to the US last September to attend the UN General Assembly and hold talks with President Barack Obama.

Even during the evacuation of Indian nationals from war-torn Yemen in April, the charge was led by Swaraj’s deputy, VK Singh, though some contended that this was because the former army chief would be better placed to coordinate with the military that was the driving force behind the rescue mission.

All that Swaraj was left to do was make statements about the evacuation in parliament, just as she had done about efforts to trace 39 Indians who were kidnapped by militants in Iraq last year.

While the Prime Minister has racked up frequent flier miles with his visits to the US, Canada, France, Australia, Japan, China and Bangladesh, Swaraj’s trips have been fewer and never as trumpeted as those made by Modi.

Though she did visit some key destinations, China and Bangladesh included, that helped pave the ground for trips by the Prime Minister, Swaraj was largely confined to visiting countries such as Turkmenistan, Oman, UAE and Tajikistan.

Asked at a news conference organised to mark the first anniversary of the BJP-led government if she felt the Prime Minister was playing a greater role in foreign affairs, all Swaraj had to say was: "A proactive PM is a support, not a challenge. I take it as a support.”

Of course, Swaraj has also been active on Twitter, handling requests for assistance in matters as diverse as the treatment of sick Indians abroad and the processing of passport applications. And it was on Twitter that she defended herself against the charges of helping Lalit Modi.

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