Sushma Swaraj, MEA: Minister of warmth, grace and steely resolve

Sushma Swaraj shone as India's External Affairs Minister owing to her meticulous knowledge of foreign affairs, her hard bargaining for India and her nerves of steel.

 |  5-minute read |   07-08-2019
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The people’s Minister of External Affairs (MEA) — and a lady who made the Ministry of External Affairs of India accessible to the general public — is how Sushma Swaraj leaves a legacy behind.

Besides being a powerful orator, she became the youngest ever state cabinet minister in the country at the age of 25 and was the first female spokesperson of a national political party in India. She had many other 'firsts' to her credit, including being the BJP’s first female Chief Minister, first female General Secretary, first female Leader of Opposition and first female full-time Minister of External Affairs (earlier, former PM Indira Gandhi was the MEA, but she held it as an additional portfolio).

main_yng--sushma-swa_080719013926.jpgSushma Swaraj: The most approachable Minister of External Affairs. (Photo: India Today Archives)

However, Sushma Swaraj would be best remembered for being one of the most tech-savvy ministers — and someone who was always there to help the common man.

During her tenure from 2014 to 2019, all one had to do was tweet any hiccups relating to her ministry and it would be resolved. The best part was that she would personally respond to all the tweets that required her attention. From reuniting families, helping citizens recover their lost passports and travel documents, to ensuring expedited visas for medical emergencies, Sushma Swaraj set the stage for the cold and distanced MEA to become a lot warmer and more approachable — a template for her successors.

No wonder she was consistently among the most followed world leaders on #Twitter.

However, it was not all about social media interactions — it was about following it up with fast-track actions, which she did commendably.

In her first media interaction as the MEA in September 2014, Sushma Swaraj said the catchphrase for her tenure was "fast-track diplomacy" and enumerated it had three faces — proactive, strong and sensitive.

In the same interaction, when asked about the steps Pakistan could take to resume Indo-Pak bilateral dialogue between PM Modi and Nawaz Sharif, Swaraj’s answer, "Diplomacy has no full stops — only comma and semicolon" stands out till date.

Her visits to Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam took India’s ties with the East to a new and energetic phase. Since Narasimha Rao's government coined it in 1992, the phrase for diplomacy with the East was ‘Look East’. Sushma Swaraj took it to an all-new level, forging strategic partnerships and security cooperation with the Eastern countries — evolving the phrase ‘Act East’.

A 23-year-old hearing and speech-impaired Indian woman, Gita, who was stranded in Pakistan for 15 years, was brought back to India in 2015, thanks to the relentless efforts of the MEA Sushma Swaraj. 

main_yng_sushma-swar_080719014921.jpgBringing Home Gita: The Indian girl brought back home after 15 years in Pakistan. (Photo: India Today Archives)

Her efforts to ensure the rescue and return of Indians caught in the midst of conflict zones, in Iraq, Libya and Ukraine, ensured the safe homecoming of nearly 10,000 Indians.

In a crowning moment of achievement, during the Yemen Crisis when Operation Rahat was launched, the Indian MEA helped citizens from many other countries, including the United Kingdom, Russia, United States and Pakistan, to get home safe. 

It was during Sushma Swaraj's stint as the MEA that India witnessed a major diplomatic victory when she was invited to an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting. She became the first representative from India to address the OIC meeting in Abu Dhabi — as the guest of honour in March 2019.

Sushma Swaraj reminded many of a motherly and loving figure.

The remarkable thing about her was that alongside this, she complemented warmth by nerves of steel in high-level diplomatic negotiations — and clashes.

She was possibly the finest politician to embody the phrase, 'iron fist — but in a velvet glove'.

Also read: Sushma Swaraj did not keep the promise made to me



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