Former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Passes Away

She did not compete in the 2019 general elections due to health reasons.

New Delhi: Former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj passed away late on Tuesday night. She was rushed to the emergency ward at AIIMS around 9:30 pm, after she started to feel unwell at around 9 pm. She was declared dead at 10:50 pm. Though no immediate information was available about the nature of the emergency, reports said she suffered a heart attack. She was 67 and is survived by her husband Swaraj Kaushal and daughter Bansuri.

Her mortal remains have been taken to her house from AIIMS. According to sources, at noon on Wednesday her remains will be taken to the BJP’s headquarters. At 3 pm, the cremation and last rites will be conducted at Lodhi road.

Swaraj, one of the prominent female faces of the BJP, stepped away from contesting the general elections this year due to health reasons. According to reports, she was recovering from a kidney transplant. She was the MP from Vidisha constituency in Madhya Pradesh during the 16th Lok Sabha.

She held various ministerial positions during the A.B. Vajpayee government. Swaraj was elected to the Lok Sabha seven times. She also became the youngest member of Haryana’s cabinet, and was briefly the Delhi chief minister in 1998.

Hours before her death, Swaraj posted a tweet congratulating Prime Minister Narendra Modi for successfully passing the resolution revoke Article 370 and the Bill to reorganise Kashmir into two Union Territories.

“Thank you Prime Minister. Thank you very much. I was waiting to see this day in my lifetime,” she said.

Prime Minister Modi tweeted that with Swaraj’s passing a “glorious chapter in Indian politics” has come to an end. “India grieves the demise of a remarkable leader who devoted her life to public service and bettering lives of the poor. Sushma Swaraj Ji was one of her kind, who was a source of inspiration for crores of people,” he said.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh has arrived at the hospital, according to ANI.

Her successor S. Jaishankar said he was shocked to learn of Swaraj’s passing. He has also arrived at AIIMS, according to reports.

Swaraj’s political career

She became the first woman to be the stand-alone external affairs minister in 2014. Indira Gandhi had external affairs as an additional portfolio, when she was prime minister.

Swaraj had been very popular in the ministry due to her personal rapport with officers. There was an outpouring of tributes and grief from Indian ambassadors who had worked with her during her tenure.

As PM Modi said in his tweet, her oratory was widely praised and her memory was also remarkable. When she had to give replies as minister during debates on a subject, Swaraj used to speak extempore without notes, answering questions by name of more than 30-40 members on contentious issues.

Even with her counterparts, she was known to have gone for the personal touch, which helped to open doors.

She was praised for her innovative use of social media to address grievances of Indians stuck abroad due to various reasons. The visible method of directly telling the Indian mission to take action on Twitter struck a chord with the people and led to her becoming one of the most popular NDA ministers.

In December 2016, Swaraj underwent a kidney transplant operation. This meant that for eight months during her term as external affairs minister, she could not travel abroad. She resumed the full schedule of her post in June 2017, with a visit to Bangladesh.

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, she had announced her decision to not contest the polls. But, her absence from the ministry had not been expected.

Despite the surprise announcement, Swaraj never made any statement in public and also attended the swearing-in ceremony where her successor S. Jaishankar was given the oath of secrecy. As the EAM, she was the one to ask for Sujatha Singh’s resignation, so Jaishankar could be appointed as the new foreign secretary.

A member of RSS’s student-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, she had been part of George Fernandes’ legal team along with her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, to defend him in the Baroda dynamite case during emergency.

In 1977, she became the youngest ever cabinet member in Haryana. A seven-time member of parliament, she became known as the trouble-shooter to get the BJP out of tricky situations. She resigned as a union minster to become chief minister of Delhi in 1998, when it was clear that the party was not on a good wicket in the state.

She was also fielded against Sonia Gandhi in Bellary at the last minute, but predictably lost the election, but with a respectable margin.