The nation wakes in mourning today, as stalwart BJP leader and former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj passed away last night, due to a cardiac arrest. Politicians, activists, public figures and common folks across political and ideological beliefs paid heartfelt tributes to her on social media. She was a leader respected and loved by all, and in times fuelled by hatred and polarisation, that is a tall claim in itself for any political figure. But not just this, Swaraj was known to have touched many lives on personal level through her work as a Foreign Minister.
The wave of sorrow on streets and on social media today is a proof of the legacy that Swaraj had left behind. It is possible to be revered among rivals. To be a Union Minister and yet be connected to the ground realities.
The first woman to hold EAM portfolio full time, Swaraj was also the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi and became a cabinet minister for Haryana government in 1977, just at the age of 25. Before Swaraj took hold of Foreign Affairs in 2014, most of us used to think of it as a ministry that solely managed India’s ties to other countries. That the EAM could have an impact on lives of common Indians, was something that we have learned in the last five years. Swaraj would actively help Indians in need of aid across the globe, be it with evacuation of Indians stuck in war torn countries or foreigners in need of immediate visa to avail medical aid in India. She would even respond to the most trivial of queries regarding the procedure to apply for passport or visa on social media.
Even when you look at the work Swaraj did, outside of the context of EAM, it sets a benchmark for making Indian ministries accessible, our ministers approachable and Indian leadership to be prompt and empathetic, with a dollop of wit. She used social media as a tool to be more connected with the citizens, and understanding their grievances first hand. In 2015, when a Yemeni woman, married to an Indian national, tweeted a picture of her baby to Swaraj, seeking evacuation, the minister promptly came to her rescue. Similarly, when a daughter reached out to Swaraj social media on behalf of her mother who was stuck in Turkey due to a misplaced passport, she paid heed. Infact, when she underwent a kidney transplant in 2016, Swaraj continued to be in touch with people via social media.
Even hours before her demise, she was active on Twitter. That’s Sushma Swaraj for you, always in the loop, always opinionated and always accessible.
The wave of sorrow on streets and on social media today is a proof of the legacy that Swaraj had left behind. It is possible to be revered among rivals. To be a Union Minister and yet be connected to the ground realities. To be a stellar orator and observer of changing trends and needs of Indians. To break glass ceilings in politics at home and to emulate empowerment globally, by being the only woman in the line up at Council of Foreign Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet.
Swaraj leaves behind a giant void in Indian politics, which will take a long time to fill up. How often does a leader touch us so deeply, that their demise feels like a personal loss? That’s what the BJP stalwart managed to achieve through her dedication, leadership and compassion. That is going to be her legacy to us. Farewell, people’s minister, they don’t make them like you anymore.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.