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Saturday 11 July 2020

Sushma Swaraj, orator, leader, former minister, no more

Sushma Swaraj died on 6 August at AIIMS, stunning a nation celebrating Article 370's invalidation, which the departed leader had written she had awaited all her life

New Delhi: Former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj died on Tuesday night at AIIMS. She was 67. The senior BJP leader was brought to AIIMS at 10:15 PM and was straightaway taken to the emergency ward. She had had a kidney transplant in 2016 and had opted out of contesting Lok Sabha polls earlier this year for health reasons.

Sushma Swaraj’s husband and other family members, along with Dr Harsh Vardhan, Piyush Goyal, Pralhad Joshi and Nitin Gadkari, are present at AIIMS. The Prime Minister is leaving for AIIMS shortly to pay his last respects to the departed leader.

President Ram Nath Kovind wrote in his condolence message on Twitter: “Extremely shocked to hear of the passing of Smt Sushma Swaraj. The country has lost a much-loved leader who epitomised dignity, courage & integrity in public life. Ever willing to help others, she will always be remembered for her service to the people of India.”

The prime minister tweeted his condolence message. He wrote, “Sushma Ji’s demise is a personal loss. She will be remembered fondly for everything that she’s done for India. My thoughts are with her family, supporters and admirers in this very unfortunate hour. Om Shanti.”

The prime minister continued, “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.”

“An excellent administrator, Sushma Ji set high standards in every Ministry she handled. She played a key role in bettering India’s ties with various nations. As a Minister we also saw her compassionate side, helping fellow Indians who were in distress in any part of the world,” said Modi.

“I can’t forget the manner in which Sushma Ji worked tirelessly as EAM in the last 5 years. Even when her health was not good, she would do everything possible to do justice to her work and remain up to date with matters of her Ministry. The spirit and commitment was unparalleled,” the prime minister reminisced.

“Sushma Ji’s demise is a personal loss. She will be remembered fondly for everything that she’s done for India. My thoughts are with her family, supporters and admirers in this very unfortunate hour. Om Shanti,” Prime Minister Modi concluded.

An external affairs minister known for reaching out to Indians, NRIs and PIOs in distress via Twitter and then following it up with on-ground action with the help of India’s foreign missions during Modi government’s first stint, Sushma Swaraj desisted from contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and chose to sit out of the government this year on account of her health.

After PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony last month, Sushma Swaraj had written an emotional message on Twitter, thanking PM Narendra Modi for giving her the opportunity to hold the office for five years. Sushma Swaraj had written in the tweet, “Prime Minister, you gave me an opportunity to serve our countrymen and overseas Indians as the Foreign Minister for five years and personally, also, gave me respect throughout my tenure. I am very grateful to you. I pray that our government becomes very successful.”

But her visibly prescient message appeared in her last tweet where she said she was alive to see the day when Article 370 would go. She wrote, “@narendramodi ji – Thank you Prime Minister. Thank you very much. I was waiting to see this day in my lifetime.”

Before the 2014 general election, a section of the media wanted to see Sushma Swaraj as the prime minister in the scenario where the BJP-led NDA formed the next government. While some say she had accepted the leadership of Modi grudgingly, she suited herself to the role of the external affairs ministry in the period 2014-19 as a fish takes to water.

Sushma Swaraj: A career triggered by chaste Hindi

Sushma Swaraj (née Sharma) was born on 14 February 1953 at Ambala Cantt, Haryana, to Hardev Sharma and Shrimati Laxmi Devi. Her father was a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteer who had migrated from the Dharampura area of Lahore, Pakistan, at the time of Partition.

Swaraj was educated at the Sanatan Dharma College in Ambala Cantonment. She earned a bachelor’s degree with majors in Sanskrit and Political Science. She studied law at Punjab University, Chandigarh. Sushma Swaraj was declared the best cadet of NCC of the SD College for three consecutive years.

A State-level competition held by the language department of Haryana saw her winning the best Hindi speaker award for three consecutive years. Indeed, it was her chaste Hindi that first caught the attention of the people, her seniors in the BJP in particular subsequently when she entered politics.

Before we continue with the obituary chronologically, it must be said that, during the years of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rule, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley had emerged as the two most relatable faces of the BJP on what was then cable television in India with just one private news channel. As the number of channels increased, Sushma Swaraj mesmerised the audience with her oratory in Hindi while Jaitley engaged with political opponents in stimulating debates in English. We continue with the flashback.

The 1970s-90s

obituaryIn 1973, Swaraj started practice as an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. She began her political career with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in the 1970s. Her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, was closely associated with socialist leader George Fernandes. She became a part of George Fernandes’s legal defence team in 1975. She actively participated in Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution Movement. After the Emergency, she joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. Later, she became a national leader of the BJP.

Sushma Swaraj was a member of the Haryana Legislative Assembly from 1977 to 1982, acquiring the Ambala Cantonment assembly seat at the age of 25, and then again from 1987 to 1990. In July 1977, she was sworn in as a Cabinet Minister in the Janata Party government headed by then Chief Minister Devi Lal.

Sushma Swaraj became State unit president of the Janata Party (Haryana) in 1979, at the age of 27 years. She was education minister of Haryana in the BJP–Lok Dal coalition government during the period of 1987 to 1990.

After a tenure in national-level politics, in October 1998 Sushma Swaraj resigned from the Union Cabinet to take over as the first woman chief minister of Delhi. However, the BJP soon lost the Assembly elections because of rising onion prices and inflation. She resigned from her Assembly seat and returned to national politics.

In April 1990, Sushma Swaraj was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha. She remained there until she was elected to the 11th Lok Sabha from South Delhi constituency in 1996.

Swaraj was elected to the 11th Lok Sabha from South Delhi constituency in April 1996 elections. She was Union Cabinet Minister for Information and Broadcasting during the 13-day government of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996.

Why film fraternity is indebted to Sushma Swaraj

Sushma Swaraj was re-elected to the 12th Lok Sabha from South Delhi parliamentary constituency for a second term in March 1998. Under the second PM Vajpayee Government, she was sworn in as the Union Cabinet minister for information and broadcasting with the additional charge of the Ministry of Telecommunications from 19 March 1998 to 12 October 1998.

The most notable decision of Sushma Swaraj during this period was to declare film production as an industry, which made the Indian film industry eligible for bank finance. She also started community radio at universities and other institutions.

Dramatic fight with Sonia Gandhi

In September 1999, the BJP nominated Swaraj to contest against the Congress’s national president Sonia Gandhi in the 13th Lok Sabha election from the Bellary constituency in Karnataka, which had always been retained by Congress politicians since the first Indian general election in 1951–52. During her campaign, she addressed public meetings in the local Kannada language. She secured 358,000 votes in just 12 days of her election campaign. However, she lost the election by a 7% margin.

What became news years later was her open challenge that if Sonia Gandhi ever became the prime minister of the country, she would get herself tonsured.

Sushma Swaraj returned to Parliament in April 2000 as a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh. She was reallocated to Uttrakhand when the new state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh on 9 November 2000. She was inducted into the Union Cabinet as Minister for Information and Broadcasting, a position she held from September 2000 until January 2003.

She was Minister of Health, Family Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs from January 2003 until May 2004, when the National Democratic Alliance Government lost the general election.

Contributions as health minister

As Union Health Minister, Sushma Swaraj set up six All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Bhopal (MP), Bhubaneshwar (Odisha), Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Patna (Bihar), Raipur (Chhattisgarh) and Rishikesh (Uttrakhand).

Swaraj was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha for the third term in April 2006 from Madhya Pradesh state. She served as the deputy leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha till April 2009.

Sushma Swaraj won the 2009 election for the 15th Lok Sabha from the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh by the highest margin of over 400,000 votes. Sushma Swaraj became Leader of Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha in place of Lal Krishna Advani on 21 December 2009 and retained this position till May 2014 when in 2014 Indian general election her party got a major victory.

Finally, minister of external affairs

Sushma Swaraj served as the minister of external affairs under Prime Minister Narendra Modi from May 2014 to May 2019. She was responsible for implementing the foreign policy of Narendra Modi. She was only the second woman to hold this position after Indira Gandhi.

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