Sushma Swaraj cremated, nation pays tributes
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was cremated with full state honours at Delhi’s Lodhi crematorium on Wednesday.
Known as one of the most accessible ministers in Narendra Modi’s first government, Swaraj died of a cardiac arrest late Tuesday night at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. She was 67.
Swaraj’s body was brought to her residence on Jantar Mantar Road on Wednesday morning. Around 11 am, it was taken to the BJP head office on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg in central Delhi. She was cremated around 4.25 pm.
Political leaders from across party lines were present at the cremation. Hundreds of party workers from Delhi and neighbouring states also turned up but many could not access the packed venue.
Hundreds of BJP workers milled outside Swaraj’s residence, though most connecting roads were barricaded by the police. Many called her a “political stalwart”. Others recalled her 51-day tenure as Delhi chief minister in 1998. She was succeeded by Congress’s Sheila Dikshit, who too passed away last month.
One of the first visitors was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who termed Swaraj a “prolific orator” and an “outstanding parliamentarian”. He was moved to tears as he met Swaraj’s family.
“Sushma ji was a prolific orator and outstanding Parliamentarian. She was admired and revered across party lines. She was uncompromising when it came to matters of ideology and interests of the BJP, whose growth she immensely contributed to… Sushma ji’s demise is a personal loss. She will remembered fondly for everything that she’s done for India. My thoughts are with her family, supporters and admirers in this very unfortunate hour,” said Modi in a series of tweets.
Swaraj, whose political career spanned around four decades, is survived by her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, and daughter Bansuri.
BJP stalwart L K Advani too broke down as he met Swaraj’s family. Other BJP leaders who paid their respects include Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu, who earlier said Swaraj was the “true voice of the people” in the Rajya Sabha. Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, and former prime minister Manmohan Singh also paid their respects.
“Sushma Swaraj’s absence has left behind a political vacuum which cannot be filled by any politician for a long time,” Shah said.
Rahul Gandhi said Swaraj was an “extraordinary political leader, a gifted orator and exceptional Parliamentarian, with friendships across party lines”.
By 11 am, hundreds had gathered at the BJP head office and the crowd swelled as buses packed with people from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana reached the adjacent parking space.
Renu Tirkey from Jharkhand was one of the visitors at the party office. She recalled meeting Swaraj for the second time when she visited Parliament in November 2018. “The meeting was unplanned. It was my good luck. And she could identify me. I was surprised. In 2017, I had met her during a programme in Ranchi,” said Tirkey, who is a member of the BJP mahila morcha in Jharkhand.
Tirkey and two others were in Delhi for a meeting at the party office but it got cancelled because of Swaraj’s death, she said.
Likewise, Ghanshyam Rathode, a farmer from Madhya Pradesh, and five of his friends have been in Delhi for three days, meeting senior BJP leaders to request them to help fix a road that connects their village, Mammatkheda, to the nearest city, Ratlam.
“We have come to Delhi after 18 years. We met LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and we wanted to meet Sushmaji too. We are sad it could not happen,” said Rathode, also the BJP in-charge of his village.
Rathode and his friends later joined a gathering that chanted slogans such as “Jai Shri Ram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” outside the hall where Swaraj’s body was kept.
Another visitor at the party head office was 96-year-old Mahashay Dharampal Gulati, the owner of spice company MDH and a popular face on television. Gulati kneeled down near Swaraj’s feet and cried inconsolably.
At the cremation venue, chief ministers of many states from Haryana to Tripura were waiting by 3.30 pm. Soon after, Modi, Shah, Rajnath Singh and other senior leaders from different parties came in.
“Sushmaji’s contribution to the nation and the party will be remembered,” said Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb, believed to have been close to Swaraj since his early days in the party in the mid-90s.