A powerful orator, an easily-accessible external affairs minister and a politician of many firsts, Sushma Swaraj was a loyal BJP soldier who was always ready to face a challenge. Swaraj’s attachment with the party ideology and principles was apparent even hours before she passed away as she tweeted to congratulate Prime Narendra Modi after the Centre’s move to revoke the special status for Jammu and Kashmir.
“I was waiting to see this day in my lifetime,” she said. She passed away at AIIMS on Tuesday night after suffering a cardiac arrest. She was 67. Swaraj, who had a kidney transplant in 2016, had opted out of fighting the Lok Sabha elections this year due to health reasons.
She was not part of the Modi government this time and S Jaishankar replaced her as the External Affairs Minister. She left behind a legacy of an easily-accessible minister who helped the diaspora in distress with her revolutionary social media outreach.
Several path-breaking measures such as the passport infrastructure expansion and enhanced engagement with the East were the highlights of her tenure as the external affairs minister.
She was only the second woman to hold the portfolio after Indira Gandhi, who briefly kept the external affairs ministry under her while being the prime minister.
Swaraj had many firsts to her credit such as being the youngest cabinet minister in the Haryana government, first woman chief minister of Delhi and the first woman spokesperson for a national political party in the country.
She started her political life with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the RSS’ student wing, and later joined the BJP. She was the Information and Broadcasting Minister in the 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1996 and got the Cabinet portfolio again after he led the BJP to power in 1998.
Always eager to take on a challenge, Swaraj contested against the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Bellary in 1999 Lok Sabha polls. Though she fell short of votes, she grew in stature.
Long seen as a protege of veteran BJP leader L K Advani, she also was the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha between 2009-14.
Swaraj, a law graduate who practised in the Supreme Court, was elected seven times as a member of Parliament and three times as a member of the legislative assembly.
Swaraj has also held the portfolios of Telecommunications, Health and Family Welfare, and Parliamentary Affairs in the Union Cabinet. She was married to Swaraj Kaushal, a designated senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India who served as Governor of Mizoram from 1990 to 1993. Kaushal was also a Member of Parliament from 1998 to 2004.
Swaraj was also the recipient of the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award. During her tenure as the external affairs minister, she handled several strategically-sensitive issues, including Indo-Pak and Sino-India relations.
Her role in resolving the prickly Doklam standoff between the Indian and Chinese sides will be remembered. Though known to be a tough fighter in the political battlefield, Swaraj was admired and respected across party lines.