The only time I cried when a politician passed away was when Jayalalitha had died in December 2016. I was a bit surprised myself because I am someone who had mocked his cousin when he had dropped tears when Bala Saheb Thackeray had passed away. I cried again the other day. Sushma Swaraj’s death seemed like a personal loss.
My first memory of Sushma Swaraj is from the late ’90s when a new chapter in Indian politics was about to be written. This was the time when BJP was set to ascend to power for the first time and she being a great orator was one of the star campaigners of the party. I still remember watching Sushma Swaraj’s campaign trail in Delhi on news channels in 1998; her fiery speeches attacking the Congress, reaching out to the refugees in transit camps, the tongue in cheek statements drawing thunderous applause from the audience and being thronged by women as she campaigned through the bylanes of the capital. Taking a jibe towards the ‘Italian’ Sonia Gandhi, she once told NDTV that ” Ordinary women connect with me because I dress and speak as they do”; which was indeed the truth. Clad in a saree with a big bindi and sindoor; she was just like the millions of mothers and wives in the nation.
When she took over as the Leader of Opposition in 2009, it was almost certain that she would be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. We all saw a mellow and mature Sushma Swaraj compared to the feisty Swaraj of the 1990s. Though she never talked about it but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that she was preparing herself for the larger role. However, Narendra Modi led BJP’s victory in 2012 Gujarat polls altered the situation. The entire BJP cadre saw Narendra Modi as the BJP’s PM candidate and given his Sangh background he was also the RSS’s blue-eyed boy. Fighting all the internal tussles and differences, he was finally declared as the Prime Minister candidate.
Sushma Swaraj has had a remarkable career. She has many firsts to her credits as being the youngest ever Cabinet Minister in the history of India, first woman Chief Minister of the capital, first woman spokesperson of any political party and of course BJP’s first woman Leader of Opposition. She has won elections in Haryana, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh with remarkable margins. Though she lost the 1999 Bellary elections to Sonia Gandhi, nobody can deny the fact that she had put up a great fight and secured massive 3,58,000 votes in just 12 days of the campaign.
As a Union Minister in the NDA government, she handled various portfolios and brought radical and important changes in the ministries. She can be credited with establishing six All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) across India; an initiative she took as the Health Minister aimed towards providing economical yet efficient health services to people. As the minister of I&B and Telecommunications declaring Films as an industry was a milestone step as it made the industry eligible to get loans and be financed by banks which were otherwise funded by the underworld. She freed the industry from the control of the underworld and ironically the same industry now takes out petitions against her party. She can also be credited for much of the ‘radio boom’ in the country as she encouraged community radio services which enabled colleges and universities to start their own FM stations. In a span of over 3 years, she brought the radio and cable services to a large population in the country. Her popularity can be assessed by the fact that Multiple System Operator (MSO) wanted Sushma Swaraj back as I&B Minister when she was moved to another portfolio.
Her tenure as the External Affairs Minister when NDA returned to power has been nothing short of historic. Historic because she will go down as one of the most popular Foreign Ministers ever. She added a humane touch to the Ministry and was truly a people’s leader. While she was often ridiculed as a Visa Minister, Sushma Swaraj never bothered and kept on working earnestly which has earned her so much goodwill and respect. Often told that she is being shadowed by the Prime Minister; Sushma Swaraj on the floor of the house asked former PM Manmohan Singh as to how many times his foreign minister accompanied him on the foreign visits.
Though her party has produced many women netas it is Sushma Swaraj who is a feminist in true sense. It was due to her efforts that two-thirds of the seats in BJP were reserved for women. Smriti Irani who is often touted as the next ‘Sushma Swaraj’ acknowledges this and thanks Swaraj for pushing through the reservation. She has been quite vocal about women equality & security. I still remember her Lok Sabha speech on International Women’s Day where she talked about increasing crime against women and urged that irrespective of political ideologies, the political class should ensure that women are safe in the country. She is also one of the few BJP netas to have come out strongly against the moral policing by organizations like the Sri Ram Sene. She has stated that her daughter who studies in Britain often visits pubs and it is up to her to decide whether she wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day or not. However, it’s unfortunate that her critics still view her as a traditional (maybe orthodox) Bhartiya Nari who vowed to shave her head if Sonia Gandhi became India’s Prime Minister.
As the leader of the opposition, Swaraj has been brilliant in the Lok-Sabha. An articulate and forceful speaker, she managed to keep the ruling party on its toes and successfully brought the agenda of the opposition on the table. Some of the outstanding debates in the parliament saw speeches by Sushma Swaraj; especially on Lokpal Bill, Coalgate, Cash for Votes and the FDI. Whether it is the ‘sher-o-shayri’ with the PM or advising the young Manish Tiwari to learn ‘vinamrata; she has been one of the finest Lok Sabha speakers that the country has seen.
Personally, I have admired her since the time I started understanding politics. Being a woman in India is tough and it’s tougher when you are a woman trying to make it big in the male-dominated the world of politics. Her political journey has been nothing but phenomenal. The way Sushma Swaraj rose through the ranks, breaking several glass ceilings and made it to the top without any godfather is commendable. I have been particularly moved by her speeches in the Parliament because she was the voice of the ‘right’ in the country. I have been so consumed by her brilliant oratory that I have lost count as to how many times I have replayed her speeches on Youtube. Such was the euphoria that the first thing I did post coming from college (2011-2013) and office (2013-present) was to go to YouTube and listen to her speech of the day. Dinner and other chores could wait but not her speech.
Deep down, I wanted her to become the Prime Minister, but I came to terms as she did. I was hoping to see her as the next President. I was also hoping to meet her someday. I remember tweeting this to her often, but I, of course, one of the many fans and somehow, I never got the chance to meet. They don’t make leaders like you anymore. Good Bye!