Every once in a generation, there comes a leader who provides a beacon of hope. For our generation that leader was Sushma Swaraj. As women lawyers, her journey was so personally inspiring to us. But the truth is we, women, alone cannot claim her. What she represented was so much beyond gender. She truly was what we want our leaders to be, our politics aside.
She joined politics quite young, while she was only a student. For women, at the time, this was not the norm. She actively participated in Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution movement, before joining the BJP. She became an MLA at a mere age of 25. Thereafter, she went on to become a seven-time Member of Parliament — and three times she served as a member of the legislative assembly. She also served as Chief Minister of Delhi, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. But then, those are only some of her achievements.
Her final stint was as Union minister of external affairs — a role she particularly thrived in. She used social media not merely as an outreach tool, but as an effective virtual “darbar”. She didn’t just lend her voice to Twitter — she made it the instrument for the voiceless. Working round the clock to save Indians in distress, she once famously said “I do not sleep” and “I do not let Indian envoys sleep”.
Bestowed with a pleasing disposition and a humane personality, she was ever ready to help anyone on this planet or “Mars”. But she could be equally combative on issues she felt strongly about — she was never afraid of the powerful.
Neither was she one to shy away from a fight, always ready to take one on the chin for the party. She agreed to take on Sonia Gandhi, in 1999, from Bellary, Karnataka. It was a seat she was widely expected to lose. While she did lose, it was not without a fight. And what a fight she put up! Losing only by a seven per cent margin, leaving a lasting imprint on the people through her public speeches which she made in Kannada.
Her powerful oratorial skills were enhanced not only by her command of the Hindi language, but also by her scholarship in Sanskrit and political science. But mostly, it was enhanced by sheer hard work and her acquired in-depth knowledge of every subject she touched upon.
Her daughter, Bansuri, at the memorial service, said she alone could not claim Sushmaji as her mother. Bansuri’s graciousness was also honest. She did indeed belong to all of us. The Wall Street Journal once described her as “India’s best loved leader”. But all that adulation came at a huge personal cost. Her husband, Swaraj, waited 41 years to spend just two months with her.
Swaraj carried herself with grace and dignity. Her public life spanned an unblemished four decades. She will remain an inspiration for all young political aspirants that desire change through a mechanism of clean politics.
“All good things come in small packages” is a phrase she epitomised. The image of her standing head and shoulders above ministers from other parts of the world, at the foreign ministers meet, in Beijing, will remain her lasting legacy. It is a matter of pride that the tallest figure of Indian politics came in the form of a woman. A woman who wore her Indianness and femininity, each day and everywhere.
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