Sa­mar­i­tan-in-chief for In­di­ans in dis­tress

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation | People’s Politician -

For days, some­time in 2014, much of Ker­ala re­mained rav­aged by thoughts of 42 nurses from the south­ern state trapped in blaz­ing Tikrit, pum­meled from all sides in one of Iraq’s dead­li­est war zones. The Indian mis­sion was deeply in­volved in op­er­a­tions that would bring the women home. But just when it looked like things were fall­ing in place, the plane that was sup­posed to lift the nurses was de­nied per­mis­sion to land in Iraqi soil. A des­per­ate Oom­men Chandy, the CM of Ker­ala then, called Sushma Swaraj. It was around mid­night.

“The is­sue was set­tled by diplo­mats at the Indian em­bassy in Kuwait, thanks to Sushma’s strong in­ter­ven­tion,” said for­mer Norka (Non-Res­i­dent Ker­alites Af­fairs) min­is­ter K C Joseph.

Such was the im­pact of the tri­umphant res­cue that two movies, one Hindi and the other in Malay­alam,

were made on it. One of them was called ‘Take Off ’. Anto Joseph, the pro­ducer, asked Chandy to let his name be there in the open­ing credits. Chandy said, “Ok, but only be­neath the name of Sushma Swaraj.”

It was many of the saviour acts Swaraj would do as In­dia’s min­is­ter for ex­ter­nal af­fair be­tween 2014 to early 2019. She was per­haps the coun­try’s most ap­proach­able politi­cian. Twit­ter helped. She loved the medium. Her au­di­ence, in turn, lapped up what she dished out. Swaraj’s Twit­ter han­dle had over 13 mil­lion fol­low­ers, the lit­tle bird al­ways abuzz. It was like a hotline to Madam Min­is­ter.

Be it re­unit­ing fam­i­lies, pro­vid­ing safe pas­sage back home to traf­fick­ing vic­tims or help­ing ci­ti­zens with their pass­port woes, re­quests were an­swered with un­prece­dented prompt­ness. On Wed­nes­day, as news of Swaraj’s demise spread, peo­ple whose lives had been touched by her gen­eros­ity, ex­pressed gratitude to the res­cuer-in-chief.

“She was the only one who re­sponded,” said Sanna Cut­ter from Fin­land, aunt of 22-year-old Felix Dahl, who had died un­der mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances in Goa in 2015. “We wrote to Goa CM, even PM Naren­dra Modi, but it was Swaraj who replied and the case was trans­ferred to CBI last year,” Cut­ter told TOI.

With Swaraj in charge, jus­tice was speedy, some­times min­utes away. In 2017, when a young Swiss cou­ple was in­jured in an at­tack in Fateh­pur Sikri, it took Swaraj no time to take cog­ni­sance of a TOI re­port on the in­ci­dent and seek the UP govern­ment’s re­ply. Swaraj re­lent­lessly pur­sued cases of distressed In­di­ans stranded on for­eign shores. A group of 65 dis­traught Gu­jarati labour­ers were res­cued in 2017 from Iraq af­ter she spoke to the Indian em­bassy in Bagh­dad. The same year, Jacintha Men­donca, a vic­tim of hu­man traf­fick­ing who was work­ing as a slave in Saudi Ara­bia, re­turned to In­dia af­ter Swaraj took up her case.

In many cases, Swaraj helped fam­i­lies get clo­sure. In 2018, she played a ma­jor role in bring­ing back bod­ies of three labour­ers to Ranchi from Saudi Ara­bia, two months af­ter their death in a road ac­ci­dent. “But for the min­is­ter, my son would not have had dig­nity in death,” said Md Ekram, fa­ther of one of the vic­tims.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.