A life devoted to service (1952-2019)

The country lost one of its most loved and admired politicians in the passing away of Sushma Swaraj, the former External Affairs Minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet. Affable and accessible, the late Sushma had friends cutting across party lines and also shared a huge rapport with the voters in the constituencies from four states that sent her to the Lok Sabha seven times. She had to opt out of the contest in 2019 due to ill-health.

Sushma Swaraj was born on the 14 February in Ambala as Sushma Sharma, and had her primary and secondary education in Ambala. She pursued a law degree which she obtained from the Punjab University. She was associated with the Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad(ABVP) during her student days, but after her marriage to advocate Swaraj Kaushal she was influenced by leaders like George Fernandes and Jayaprakash Narayan, and was an active participant in the Total Revolution Movement.

Sushma Swaraj later joined the BJP and had the distinction of becoming the youngest minister at 25 when she was inducted into the Haryana cabinet. She held the Education portfolio in the government. Sushma was fortunate to come under the tutelage of two of the BJP’s biggest stalwarts, former Prime Minister, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Deputy Prime Minister LalKrishna Advani. Advani took her under his wing as he did many others, and from then on her rise in national politics was meteoric. Her first tenure as a Union Minister was in the Vajpayee cabinet where she held diverse portfolios such as Information & Broadcasting, Telecom, Health & Family Welfare, and Parliamentary Affairs. She won the hearts of the film folk during her tenure as I & B minister when she paved the way for cinema being conferred industry status, a step that rescued the industry from the clutches of money lenders and the mafia. As Health Minister, Sushma set up AIIMS institutes in six centres across the country.

She served as the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi for a very short period, from October to December 1998, and later contested the Bellary Lok Sabha seat in Karnataka where she was pitted against Congress party President Sonia Gandhi. Although she lost the election, she won the hearts of the people of Bellary. The three term Rajya Sabha member from different states including Madhya Pradesh, replaced her mentor L.K. Advani as the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha in 2009 when the Congress was in power in the centre, and gave a very good account of herself.

She was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Vidisha constituency in 2014 winning by a record margin of over four lakh votes, and took over as the External Affairs minister in the NDA government headed by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. She was only the second woman to head the Ministry of External Affairs after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who held additional charge of the ministry.

As External Affairs minister rushed to the rescue of thousands of Indians stranded in strife torn countries like Yemen. Particularly poignant was her herculean effort to rescue and rehabilitate a young speech and hearing impaired girl, Geetha, stranded in Pakistan for fifteen years. Equally impressive was her role in securing the repatriation of Indian national Hamid Ansari who had been illegally detained by Pakistan for six years. 

Sushma Swaraj’s husband Swaraj Kaushal served as a Governor of Mizoram and practiced in the Supreme Court. Their daughter Bansuri has graduated from Oxford University, and is a Barrister in Law from the Inner Temple. Sushma Swaraj, a recipient of the Best Parliamentarian Award, was also conferred with the prestigious Grand Cross of Order of Civil Merit by the Spanish government for her role in ensuring India’s support for Spanish citizens in Nepal during the massive earthquake in 2015. The eminent daily The Wall Street Journal termed her India’s best loved politician. Sushma suffered a cardiac arrest on 6 August 2019, and succumbed at the AIIMS, Delhi.

C.V. Aravind

The writer is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.