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.
- Total Shares
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).
Sushma 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.
#WATCH Indian National Hamid Ansari who came to India after being released from a Pakistan jail yesterday, meets External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Delhi. His mother tells EAM "Mera Bharat mahaan, meri madam mahaan, sab madam ne hi kiya hai." pic.twitter.com/FQEzz99Ohm— ANI (@ANI) December 19, 2018
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.
Aliya - I was concerned about your well being kyonki betiyan to sabki sanjhi hoti hain. https://t.co/9QyeMQfRwy— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) October 3, 2016
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’.
My officers have located the missing Dutch girl Sabine Harmes. pic.twitter.com/cnh43a26Xg /2— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) February 29, 2016
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.
We are completing the necessary formalities to bring Gita back to India.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) August 8, 2015
Bringing 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.
US spends 10 times as much on its military as India does - but tells Americans in #Yemen to call the Indians if they want a lift out!— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) April 6, 2015
The evacuation operation from Yemen is over. General V.K.Singh is returning tonight. We are closing our Embassy there.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) April 9, 2015
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.
Aap haar mat maniye. Mujhe apni samasya batayiye. https://t.co/n37DAroU7z— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) March 30, 2017
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'.