India Today - - UPFRONT - Bal­bir Punj is a two-time MP and a for­mer col­league of Sushma Swaraj By Bal­bir Punj

In 1999, Sushma Swaraj con­tested from Bel­lary, Kar­nataka—this was when the Bharatiya Janata Party was not well known in the state and no one had heard of ei­ther the BJP or Sushma Swaraj. The bat­tle was a tough one. She was tak­ing on So­nia Gandhi of the well-en­trenched Congress party, but Swaraj was quick to em­brace the chal­lenge. She en­gaged two tu­tors to teach her Kan­nada and, us­ing all her skills and pho­to­graphic mem­ory, within a fort­night she was ad­dress­ing ral­lies in flu­ent Kan­nada. I per­son­ally checked with a few lo­cal jour­nal­ists on her Kan­nada and ev­ery­one agreed that she re­ally did pull it off. Her dic­tion and choice of words were per­fect. And though she lost by just about 50,000 votes, she won many hearts.

Swaraj took on every role—par­lia­men­tar­ian, party worker, min­is­ter—with a dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion, persistenc­e and hon­esty which was uniquely hers.

In 2009, the party de­cided that Swaraj was among the stal­warts who would cam­paign but not con­test, but on this oc­ca­sion she made her pref­er­ences clear and was al­lowed to

con­test. She stood from Vidisha in Mad­hya Pradesh and won. Though the party suf­fered a scathing de­feat, win­ning just 116 seats, the BJP had come a long way, up from just two mem­bers of Par­lia­ment in 1984. This was partly be­cause of the ef­forts of the team, which in­cluded Swaraj, picked by L.K. Ad­vani in the mid-1980s to build the BJP’s par­lia­men­tary strength to a tar­get of 200 MPs. The other mem­bers were Naren­dra Modi, Pramod Ma­ha­jan, Venka­iah Naidu, Arun Jait­ley, Ananth Ku­mar and Govin­dacharya. She played a cru­cial role in build­ing the party where she was widely re­garded as an in­dul­gent ‘didi’.

The same year, Swaraj also took charge as leader of Op­po­si­tion in the Lok Sabha from Ad­vani, fiercely ar­tic­u­lat­ing their point of view and hold­ing the rul­ing gov­ern­ment ac­count­able. This was at a time when sev­eral scan­dals, such as the coal and tele­com scams, were rock­ing Par­lia­ment daily. A gifted ora­tor, par­tic­u­larly in Hindi—con­sid­ered by many to be in the same league as Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee— Swaraj com­mu­ni­cated the party’s stance with pre­ci­sion.

In 1998, when Va­j­payee asked her to take over as the chief min­is­ter of Delhi, Swaraj was reluc­tant to move from na­tional to statelevel pol­i­tics, but took up the chal­lenge all the same.

Among the many ‘firsts’ to her credit, Swaraj had the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the youngest-ever min­is­ter at 25, the min­i­mum pre­scribed age. She was the first-ever woman spokesper­son of a na­tional party and the first woman to be ap­pointed as a full-time ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter of In­dia.

As for­eign min­is­ter, she broke the mould. The pro­file does not en­tail any in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple, but she changed that and be­came the first min­is­ter to use so­cial me­dia to make her­self more ac­ces­si­ble. In­di­ans from across the world reached out to her and were sel­dom dis­ap­pointed.

Swaraj was In­dian to the core, but global in her out­look. She was a full-time politi­cian and ca­reer woman and also a fam­ily woman, em­body­ing In­dian tra­di­tions and cul­ture. Ir­re­place­able, Swaraj will al­ways be a role model to all those who wish to join pub­lic life. ■

Sushma Swaraj played a cru­cial role in build­ing the BJP, where she was widely re­garded as an in­dul­gent ‘didi’



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