India's 'supermom' Sushma Swaraj, the lady who redefined the country's Foreign Ministry, is no more

India's 'supermom' Sushma Swaraj, the lady who redefined the country's Foreign Ministry, is no more
  • Senior BJP leader and former Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, passed away on Tuesday (August 6) after a fatal heart attack at the age of 67.
  • Swaraj, a firebrand Hindu nationalist in her younger years, changed the face of foreign ministry and was dubbed India's 'supermom' by the Washington Post.
  • She will be remembered for breaking the gender-based glass ceiling more than once long before women empowerment became a buzzword in Indian politics.
Senior BJP leader and former foreign minister Sushma Swaraj passed away on Tuesday (August 6) at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS). The BJP veteran reportedly suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 67.

Born on Valentine's Day in 1953, she earned bachelor's degree with majors in Political Science and Sanskrit from the Punjab University. Her father Hardev Sharma was a long-time member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist organisation and the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Advocate by profession, Swaraj remained in the saffron fold all her life. Until a few months before her demise, she was the country's Minister of External Affairs-- one of two women to hold that office till date -- where her active involvement and quick responses on social media not only helped many in distress but also earned her the tag of India's 'supermom'.

She holds many records like being the youngest cabinet minister at the age of 25, the first female spokesperson for a national political party, as well as the Spanish government's Grand Cross of Order of Civil Merit in recognition of India's support in evacuating its citizens from Nepal after the 2015 earthquake.


A key character in history

By the 1970s, the young Swaraj was a firebrand youth politician rallying as part of the revolutionary movement led by the Gandhian stalwart Jayprakash Narayan against the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

She became a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian Parliament, in 1990 and the first lady to be Delhi's Chief Minister in 1998-- the stint, however, lasted only 3 months.

She had the trust of former Prime Minister, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, and held key portfolios including information and broadcasting, telecommunications as well as health and family welfare. Under Narendra Modi's leadership, she held the foreign ministry until 2019 when she decided to retire from contesting elections.

Taking a Gandhi head on

Swaraj never shied away from challenges whether it was outside her party or within. She famously took on the mighty Sonia Gandhi head on in Bellary, considered to be a 'safe seat'' for the Gandhi family, in 1999. Swaraj lost the election but that was the beginning of a fierce rivalry between the two ladies, one that left an indelible story in Indian politics.

Swaraj in the image of an 'ideal Indian woman' took the fight to Sonia Gandhi calling her the 'foreigner' triggering a debate that ended with Gandhi choosing not to become the Prime Minister despite having won the election. Swaraj had lost the election but her rhetoric had won.

In 2004, Congress lost the seat in Bellary, for the first time in over 50 years, as the local satraps, the infamous Reddy brothers accused of illegal mining, decided to back the BJP.

Opposition to Modi as Prime Minister

The brilliant orator also crossed swords with none other than Narendra Modi before the 2014 election. She stood with the old guards of the BJP in stalling Modi's candidature for the post of the Prime Minister. While a political truce was struck between the two sides within the party, and Swaraj was made the foreign minister, her role was cut to size soon after the government took over.

However, Modi and his long-term aide, the former spy Ajit Doval, drove the country's foreign policy, Swaraj deftly redefined her role to stay relevant, and more prominent, in people's minds.

The Other Modi

What made matters worse for Swaraj were her and her family's ties with Lalit Modi, the controversial businessman who built the billion dollar Indian Premier League and was later indicted for money laundering, embezzlement, and breaking rules while living a lavish lifestyle. Swaraj, whose daughter was Lalit Modi's legal counsel, was accused of helping him flee the country in 2014.

Eventually, there was peace between the two camps within the BJP and Swaraj came out of the controversy with minimal scars. She spent the remaining years in her office as foreign minister connecting with people via Twitter. Her affectionate and sensitive responses to Indians in distress in other countries, during times of hostility or a natural disaster, earned her the love and likes from millions of people.

This was her last tweet.

Irrespective of whether one agrees with her politics, Swaraj will be remembered for breaking the glass ceiling more than once long before women empowerment became a buzzword in Indian politics.

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