Sushma Swaraj: Foreign minister, most accessiblehttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/sushma-swaraj-dead-foreign-minister-most-accessible-5884014/

Sushma Swaraj: Foreign minister, most accessible

Sushma Swaraj passes away: “Indian Embassy is your home away from home. Whenever in trouble, please contact the Indian Embassy/Consulate. They will always help you,” she told this to many — in person, and on Twitter.

sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj dead, sushma swaraj dead, latest news on sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj age, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj news, sushma swaraj news today,
Sushma Swaraj: Minister who helped Indians in distress, played perfect foil to a visible PM. Express Archive)

IN JUNE 2016, a Twitter user tweeted to then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that he had been sold a defective refrigerator that went kaput. She replied, on Twitter: “Brother I cannot help you in matters of a Refrigerator. I am very busy with human beings in distress.”

That was Swaraj, who had by then earned a formidable reputation in helping overseas Indians in distress; the External Affairs Minister who brought a humane touch to the otherwise distant and officious Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

Sushma Swaraj’s last rites to be held today. Follow LIVE Updates

Within months of taking charge, Swaraj made sure that the ministry was a responsive government institution. A system, thus, was put in place where she would respond to distress tweets from Indians stranded across the world.

“Indian Embassy is your home away from home. Whenever in trouble, please contact the Indian Embassy/Consulate. They will always help you,” she told this to many — in person, and on Twitter.

Advertising

Read | India’s ‘Supermom’ who blazed a trail in Twitter diplomacy

During her five years as External Affairs Minister, Swaraj made sure that she left a legacy of being a responsive minister —- she once responded to distress tweets at 3 am, which became a benchmark of sorts for Indian embassies worldwide.

sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj dead, sushma swaraj dead, latest news on sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj age, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj news, sushma swaraj news today, sushma swaraj health news, sushma swaraj latest news, foreign minister, foreign minister sushma swaraj
Sushma Swaraj with former US President Barack Obama. (File)

Handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lead the MEA, Swaraj could have fretted and sulked since Modi made foreign policy his priority in his first term. But she was able to make her own space skilfully.

sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj dead, sushma swaraj dead, latest news on sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj age, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj news, sushma swaraj news today, sushma swaraj health news, sushma swaraj latest news, foreign minister, foreign minister sushma swaraj
In 1977, Sushma Swaraj became the youngest cabinet minister, at the age of 25 years.

India has had a history of Prime Ministers with very strong foreign policy agenda. From Jawaharlal Nehru, who was his own foreign minister, Indira Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, to Narendra Modi, all these leaders ran the MEA through the PMO. But undeterred, Swaraj made a mark by using social media, and made South Block accessible.

Read | ‘Stateswoman extraordinaire, diplomat par excellence’: Tributes pour in for Sushma Swaraj

From rescuing hearing and speech- impaired Geeta from Pakistan to organising mass evacuation from Iraq, Yemen, Nepal, among other conflict-hit areas, and from pushing the Kulbhushan Jadhav case to getting Indian national Hamid Ansari back, Swaraj endeared herself to ordinary Indians.

While her people-friendly image was for Indians, she played the perfect foil for the visible Prime Minister — understated, subtle, not in-your face.

sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj dead, sushma swaraj dead, latest news on sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj age, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj news, sushma swaraj news today,
In 1998 she was re-elected to the Lok Sabha before resigning her seat to become the first woman chief minister of Delhi.

She always prepared the groundwork for Modi’s high-level visits — from her visit to Pakistan in December 2015, which was followed by Modi’s; her visit to China in 2018, setting the stage for the informal Wuhan summit; and effectively standing in for the United Nations General Assembly sessions every September-October to put across India’s point of view.

Read | ‘Gone too soon, a lady who was people’s person’: Sports fraternity pay tribute to Sushma Swaraj

Gifted with oratory skills, both in chaste Hindi and English, she made life easy for Indian diplomats prepping for visits. “Remembering our 2 AM session with #SushmaSwaraj in Abu Dhabi on March 1. She was to speak the next morning as Guest of Honour at OIC Foreign Ministers’ Conference. Arrived after midnight, plunged straight into work, got a bit of rest and delivered a truly memorable address,” Indian envoy to the UAE, Navdeep Suri, tweeted.

sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj dead, sushma swaraj dead, latest news on sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj age, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj news, sushma swaraj news today, sushma swaraj health news, sushma swaraj latest news, foreign minister, foreign minister sushma swaraj
At just 25 years, Swaraj became the youngest Cabinet minister, given charge of Labour and Employment.

While she kept a distance from the media during her stint as the External Affairs Minister, Swaraj hosted an annual winter lunch, with Indian cuisine and cultural performance on the lawns of Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan, and during which she easily mingled with journalists, appreciating work of even those not very charitable to her.

In Photos | See rare photos of former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj

Although she used Twitter to help people, she also had some moments where she faced criticism for handling of issues.

sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj dead, sushma swaraj dead, latest news on sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj age, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj news, sushma swaraj news today, sushma swaraj health news, sushma swaraj latest news, foreign minister, foreign minister sushma swaraj
In 1977, Sushma Swaraj became the youngest cabinet minister, at the age of 25 years. (Express Photo)

Once, when a doormat depicting the Indian flag sold by a third-party reseller in Canada caught her attention, she demanded a public apology from Amazon and threatened to rescind Indian visas for Amazon employees.

sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj dead, sushma swaraj dead, latest news on sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj age, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj news, sushma swaraj news today, sushma swaraj health news, sushma swaraj latest news, foreign minister, foreign minister sushma swaraj
Sushma Swaraj and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. (Express Archive)

Even though she was embroiled in the Lalit Modi controversy, there was a point when one discovered how her relationships cut across party lines. In June-July 2015, she also got a lot of flak for helping fugitive Lalit Modi get travel documents. But while she got criticism from all across, Opposition leaders had such respect for her that in Parliament they stopped short of asking for her resignation.

At the French National Day in July 2015, asked why the Opposition was not seeking her resignation, one Opposition leader said, “She is one of our old socialist friends.”

Advertising
sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj death news, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj dead, sushma swaraj dead, latest news on sushma swaraj, sushma swaraj age, sushma swaraj passes away, sushma swaraj news, sushma swaraj news today, sushma swaraj health news, sushma swaraj latest news, foreign minister, foreign minister sushma swaraj
Sushma Swaraj with BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi. (Express Archive)

While she won over her rivals that day, over the last five years she possibly won the hearts of many she helped and came across as someone who was the “People’s Foreign Minister”.