Her supporters recall her early rise in politics and the fact that she was Haryana’s youngest cabinet minister in 1977 at the age of 25.
Today, 38 years later, Sushma Swaraj finds herself facing accusations of having lobbied on behalf of an Indian fugitive as the country’s external affairs minister.
Swaraj’s political career, however, has been no stranger to crests and troughs.
She rose in politics at a young age but her detractors within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called her an “outsider” to the Sangh Parivar, the party’s ideological fountainhead. They said she was a socialist nominee to the Janata Party government under Devi Lal in Haryana.
Swaraj, 63, would say it was her husband Swaraj Kaushal who should be called a socialist. Her father had been a ‘swayamsevak’, she would add.
She wasn’t electorally successful in the Lok Sabha polls in the 1980s. In 1980, 1984 and 1989, she lost to Congress’ Chiranji Lal Sharma, another Brahmin from Haryana.
After a Rajya Sabha stint, she broke her Lok Sabha jinx with a victory from South Delhi in 1996, becoming a cabinet minister in the 13-day government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. She won again in 1998, becoming a cabinet minister again.
In the 1990s, she made her mark as a powerful Hindi orator in Parliament, once defending the BJP’s one-nation-one-culture principle by citing an example that irked veteran communist Somnath Chatterjee.
She said it was because of a single national culture that NC Chatterjee of Bengal – Somnath’s father and a Hindu Mahasabha veteran – named his son Somnath (the name of the Hindu temple in Gujarat that was demolished by Mahmud of Ghazni).
Swaraj was made Delhi’s chief minister after Sahib Singh Verma stepped down in 1998. However, the rising price of onions during her short tenure attracted much criticism.
The next great political battle was Bellary, as Swaraj, styling herself as the “beti” (daughter) of the people, took on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, the foreign-origin “bahu” (daughter-in-law). Swaraj lost after putting up a spirited fight.
It was here that the Reddy brothers – G Karunakara Reddy, G Janardhana Reddy and G Somashekara Reddy, who rode two-wheelers till then – campaigned extensively for her. Just over a decade later, they became controversial mining barons flying in helicopters. That Swaraj had been close to the controversial brothers who tried to destabilise BS Yeddyrappa’s BJP government in Karnataka was talked about in hushed tones.
In 2004, Swaraj controversially said she would shave her head if Sonia Gandhi became prime minister, a statement many criticised.
She was one of the claimants for BJP’s prime ministerial position after she became Leader of Opposition in 2009. It was at this time that then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi – a rising star among the party’s chief ministers, who were the real mass leaders on the ground – rose from strength to strength.
Those who know Swaraj are aware she is a straight talker. She will tell journalists she never speaks off the record.
As external affairs minister, she has been understated, with the Prime Minister steering the foreign policy with an aggression seldom seen before. Yet, many see her ministry as one of the more successful ones.
However, the latest controversy has hit her hard for the moment, though the BJP has strongly backed her till now. Swaraj faces yet another challenge to an influential political career, with her alleged links with Lalit Modi being talked about by the opposition.