The sudden demise of BJP stalwart and ex-foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has sent shock waves throughout the world. Only 67, the Iron Lady of India and the Badass Feminist Icon in Indian Politics suffered a massive cardiac arrest yesterday and was rushed to AIIMS. Sadly, there was nothing the doctors could do to save the long-ailing Sushma Swaraj.
While we mourn the loss of this dynamic leader, it is also a reminder for us to celebrate her life. Sushma Swaraj also served as a Supreme Court lawyer and is a feminist icon in the truest sense of the word. Here we look at some poignant moments from her life, when she took the world by storm.
1. Youngest Cabinet Minister at the age of 25
While many know Swaraj’s political ground to be Vidhisha in MP, she started her political career as an MLA from Ambala Cantt. in Haryana. She became the country’s youngest cabinet minister at the mere age of 25 in 1977.
2. First woman spokesperson for any national political party
A fact that is unknown to many, Sushma Swaraj was also a national spokesperson for the BJP. This was the first time any female was given this coveted post across all party lines. While many rue the BJP as anti-woman in leadership positions, this was a first for the Indian Politics.
3. First woman Chief Minister of Delhi
The mention of a female Chief Minister of Delhi makes you think about Sheila DIkshit. But do you know the honour of being the first female Chief Minister of Delhi also belong to Sushma Swaraj? This happened in the year 1998.
4. Her fiery speech on Secularism and her Hindu identity
In 1996 Swaraj gave a spirited speech in the Lok Sabha on Secularism that is remembered till date. She said- “Mr Speaker, we are communal. Yes Mr Speaker, we are communal because we advocate singing Vande Mataram. Yes, we are communal, because we fight for the respect of the national flag. We are communal because we want to abolish Article 370. We are communal because we want to put an end to discrimination based on caste and creed in this country. Yes we are communal because we want to get the Uniform Civil Code implemented in this country,” Sushma Swaraj roared in the Parliament, to deafening cheering.
“The truth is, Mr Speaker, that because we are not ashamed of being Hindu, we are communal and we are anti-secular, and in this country, if you are not ashamed of being a Hindu, then you cannot be certified a secular by these pseudo-intellectuals. Mr Speaker, our definition of secularism is that a Hindu should be a good Hindu, a Muslim should be a good Muslim, a Sikh should be a good Sikh and a Christian should be a good Christian, and everyone should follow their religions while simultaneously respecting each other,” she added.
5. Changing lives as Minister of Health and Family Welfare
During the 2003 Vajpayee Government, she served as the Minister of Health and Family Welfare as well as the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. It was during this time, she did something unthinkable, so to say. In order to eliminate myths surrounding HIV, Sushma Swaraj embraced two kids, who were infected by HIV. Aids is not spread by “touching and hugging” and the society must learn this, Sushma Swaraj had said.
The kids’ plight became a talking point in 2003 after their grandfather met the then President APJ Abdul Kalam and told him that the children were unable to get admission in school due to their HIV positive status. To ensure that the kids were able to receive education, Swaraj appointed a special tutor to teach them.
6. When Sushma Swaraj vowed to “shave off” her head
Sushma Swaraj was always very critical of Sonia Gandhi. From contesting against her in the elections to the floor of the Parliament, their political rivalry in well-known. However, it is an incident from 2004 that remains the most interesting to date.
When the Congress won the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the grand old party initially backed UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for the prime ministerial post. In a highly emotional moment, Swaraj vociferous protested against it, vowing to shave her head and live her entire life like a Hindu widow if Gandhi was sworn-in. She claimed that it would hurt her “sensibilities” if a foreigner would lead the country post Independence.
7. First woman Leader of Opposition
No stranger to history, Sushma Swaraj made another first in 2009 when she became the first woman Leader of Opposition, replacing her mentor Lal Krishna Advani. She held this position till 2014.
8. First Female External Affairs Minister
In 2014, Swaraj bagged the prestigious External Affairs portfolio under the Modi government. She was the second woman to take charge of this ministry after Indira Gandhi. However, Gandhi took this as an additional charge while Swaraj was a full time minister.
9. Being a powerful female face at the global level
Who can forget the moment of pride when Sushma Swaraj, clad in her signature saree, stood tall with an all male delegation of foreign ministers around the world. Can you think of anything more feminist? Or the time when she became the first Indian to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting as the guest of honour. Or the time when she enchanted the UN General Assembly with her speech.
10. And of course, winning hearts on Twitter
Sushma Swaraj as a leader, pioneered turning Twitter into a helpline for citizens. Indian nationals from all over the world received instant help through a mere tweet. Resultantly, her Twitter follower count also crossed the 11 million threshold, making Swaraj the world’s most followed woman leader, and of course the most followed foreign minister.
Sushma Swaraj’s passing has left a huge vacuum in the Indian politics and leadership worldwide that we are not going to be over anytime soon. We hope Sushma Swaraj continues to remain a Badass Feminist Icon in Indian Politics for all.