Samaritan-in-chief for Indians in distress
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.