Sushma Swaraj Passes Away

Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj passed away on Tuesday evening after a heart attack. She was 67. Swaraj served as external affairs minister in the first Narendra Modi government. She opted out of contesting the Lok Sabha elections held a few months ago citing health reasons. Her doctors had advised her to keep away from dust and infection. A diabetic, she had undergone a kidney transplant in December 2016.

Though Swaraj’s father was associated with the RSS, she began her political career with the Janata Party. At 25, she became the youngest minister when she joined the Devi Lal government in Haryana in 1977. She joined the BJP later and rose within the ranks to become one of its most prominent women leaders.

Swaraj was information and broadcasting minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and one of the commendable performances was her deft handling of the media during the India-Pakistan Agra summit in 2001 which ended on a sour note. Known for her oratorical skills, Swaraj was the archetypal face of the Indian woman. She took up women’s issues within the BJP as well as on public platform. BJP’s decision in 2008 to have 33% reservation for women among the office-bearers was due to her efforts. She also courted controversy when she tried to enforce a dress code for Doordarshan anchors when she was I&B minister.

As health minister in the same Vajpayee government, Swaraj is credited with initiating the process of building four more AIIMS across the country on the lines of the one in Delhi. Incidentally, she breathed her last in this hospital.

BJP veteran LK Advani oversaw her growth in the party and entrusted her with important responsibilities, including that of general secretary and spokesperson. When the RSS insisted that Advani step down from the post of Leader of the Opposition, after BJP’s second consecutive Lok Sabha defeat in 2009, he chose Swaraj to replace him in December, 2009.

Swaraj would often vociferously take on the UPA government, especially as LoP in the Lower House. She was especially active when the Manmohan Singh government was mired in the 2G spectrum allocation, Commonwealth Games and the coal allocation cases. Swaraj led the BJP in forcing a washout of the winter session of Parliament in December 2010 over the appointment of PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner.

When most BJP leaders began distancing themselves from Advani and started aligning with Narendra Modi post-2012, Swaraj stayed loyal to her political guru. RSS always stood by her and this ensured that she was made the external affairs minister in 2014. She won hearts across the Indian diaspora in various countries redressing issues flagged by them on Twitter.

Never one to shy away from fighting any political battle for her party, she readily accepted the BJP decision to make her the chief minister of Delhi in 1998, months before the assembly elections. She replaced Sahib Singh Verma who was facing dissensions within the party. BJP lost the polls due to high onion prices. Swaraj famously contested against Congress leader Sonia Gandhi from Bellary in Karnataka in September 1999. Though she lost, she won many hearts in the state and even learned Kannada during the campaign. Swaraj served four terms in the Lok Sabha, representing South Delhi and Vidisha twice each. She was also elected to the Rajya Sabha thrice.

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