In Sushma Swaraj’s death, India has lost another leader belonging to a tribe that is becoming rarer by the day. The former external affairs minister, who passed away rather suddenly in New Delhi on Tuesday, was one of those leaders who could transcend political, communal and even national boundaries in these ideologically divisive times. She was perhaps in the mould of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, another BJP leader whose death was mourned not only by the political party he represented but also by his adversaries within the country and across the border in Pakistan. Though Swaraj remained committed to the saffron party, her admirers belonged to various political shades.
She had many firsts to her credit. In 1977, she became Haryana’s youngest cabinet minister at the age of 25. Then in 1998, she resigned from the Vajpayee cabinet to become Delhi’s first woman chief minister, albeit for a very brief period. As a politician in the national capital, she shared many qualities with Sheila Dikshit, another woman leader who was admired for her accessibility, humility and motherly love. Although they belonged to opposite political spectra, both were leaders who always put their party’s interests before their own. For instance in 1999, when the BJP picked Swaraj to contest against Congress leader Sonia Gandhi from Bellary, she took up the challenge without hesitation. The same went for Dikshit, who never shied away from a difficult task her party gave. In an uncanny twist of fate, both have departed from this world in less than a month of each other.
But perhaps Swaraj’s lasting legacy would be how she helped people in distress through Twitter. When she helmed the foreign ministry, there was hardly a day when Indians and Pakistanis would not reach out to her through that medium for as mundane a help as a lost passport or a medical visa. But Swaraj would not disappoint them. In a tweet that is now famous, she said the Indian embassy would be there even in Mars to help a fellow countryman. That in essence was Swaraj.