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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

Sushma Swaraj: A remarkable MP, a distinct EAM, India will miss her

A brilliant bilingual speaker, Swaraj enjoyed the cut and thrust of parliamentary debates. As leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha between 2009 and 2014, she effectively put forth her party’s position and played a key role in discrediting the United Progressive Alliance government, which eventually paved the way for the BJP’s victory in 2014.

editorials Updated: Aug 07, 2019 17:50 IST

Hindustan Times
The outpouring of grief across party lines at her sudden death illustrates the importance she held in public life, and her ability to stitch interpersonal skills with political friends and rivals
The outpouring of grief across party lines at her sudden death illustrates the importance she held in public life, and her ability to stitch interpersonal skills with political friends and rivals(PTI)
         

Sushma Swaraj is no more. A towering figure in Indian politics for close to four decades, Swaraj’s loss is not just a loss for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but the polity as a whole. There are three spheres in which Swaraj’s contribution will stand out.

The first is as a remarkable political worker, Swaraj was willing to fight for her beliefs. She started out as a socialist, becoming a minister in the Haryana government in her 20s. But she soon transitioned into the BJP. Influenced by the anti-Congress tradition of Indian politics, Swaraj managed to carve out a distinctive space for herself in the BJP, despite not having roots in the party. This happened because LK Advani picked her as one of the second-generation leaders he groomed, along with many others like Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, and M Venkaiah Naidu, all of whom went on to occupy critical public positions. It helped that Swaraj was willing to throw herself in every battle for the party, from pitching in as chief minister of Delhi to contesting against Sonia Gandhi from Bellary in Karnataka, and putting up a spirited fight.

The second, related, feature of Swaraj’s career was as a parliamentarian. A brilliant bilingual speaker, Swaraj enjoyed the cut and thrust of parliamentary debates. As leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha between 2009 and 2014, she effectively put forth her party’s position and played a key role in discrediting the United Progressive Alliance government, which eventually paved the way for the BJP’s victory in 2014.

Swaraj will finally be remembered as a people’s foreign minister. She shared an uncomfortable equation with Mr Modi before 2014, but once appointed as the external affairs minister, she respected his authority, and carved out a distinct space. Aware that the Prime Minister’s Office had a major say in key policy issues, Swaraj — instinctively, a mass politician — recognised that one of her roles involved helping Indians in distress abroad. Combining a humane touch with the use of technology, she leveraged Twitter to aid citizens, from those who had lost family members outside to those seeking passports, from those seeking a visa to those who needed immediate consular access. If any Indian needed help, they knew a tweet to Swaraj would get a response.

Swaraj had lows. Her threat to shave off her head if Sonia Gandhi became prime minister in 2004 was in poor taste (though it is a different matter that they went on to become warm personal friends). She developed a deep suspicion for the media in her later years. And she was disappointed at not becoming minister again in Mr Modi’s second term. But India will remember, and deeply miss, the dignity, grace, and skills she brought to public life.

First Published: Aug 07, 2019 17:39 IST

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