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The last word about Swaraj isn’t out yet

De­spite an­nounc­ing that she won’t be con­test­ing the 2019 elec­tions, do not rule out her role in a post-poll sce­nario where In­dia’s rul­ing BJP falls short of a sim­ple ma­jor­ity and needs out­side sup­port

- By Swati Chaturvedi ■ Swati Chaturvedi is an award­win­ning print and broad­cast jour­nal­ist. Her book I am a Troll — In­side the BJP’s se­cret dig­i­tal army has re­ceived in­ter­na­tional ac­claim. Twit­ter: @Bain­jal.

It says a lot about In­dia’s rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that Sushma Swaraj, the se­nior-most woman leader in the BJP, not just emerged but rose to promi­nence in the party. It also says a lot about the cur­rent ma­jori­tar­ian BJP that Swaraj, orig­i­nally a so­cial­ist, never be­came the party’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date.

Swaraj re­cently an­nounced that she will not be con­test­ing the Lok Sabha elec­tions next year, but the news hardly cre­ated a rip­ple. That was clearly man­aged by her ri­vals in the party who fancy them­selves su­per ed­i­tors and ex­cel in head­line man­age­ment.

Swaraj, cur­rently the for­eign min­is­ter, diminu­tive in size — she is around five feet — has a huge elec­toral stature, win­ning more than half a dozen Lok Sabha elec­tions. Swaraj is an un­par­al­leled or­a­tor, in the league of the late Atal Bi­hari Vajpayee, and learns lan­guages quickly. She holds large crowds in thrall.

Swaraj’s am­bi­tions have matched her or­a­tory. And she was al­ways ex­tremely con­scious of im­age man­age­ment. Asked about the fact that Swaraj was the best prime min­is­ter the BJP never had, party lead­ers scoff, say­ing she has never tried to be col­le­gial with col­leagues.

But that is the per­cep­tion of an ex­tremely pa­ter­nal­is­tic party, which did not ut­ter a word when Swaraj was trolled shame­fully by right-wing trolls. Her of­fence was try­ing to give speedy re­dress to a com­plaint made by an in­ter-faith cou­ple.

So is Swaraj the hoary old cliche — the right woman in the wrong party? She was the leader of the op­po­si­tion in the Lok Sabha, a po­si­tion nor­mally held by the shadow prime min­is­ter. And, de­spite some con­tro­ver­sies, such as a brief dal­liance with the in­fa­mous Bel­lary brothers and a one around Lalit Modi, again adroitly man­aged by her ri­vals, Swaraj has a clean im­age.

She was the BJP’s orig­i­nal ideal In­dian “bahu” (daugh­ter-in-law) un­til Pramod Ma­ha­jan, a huge Swaraj ri­val, brought in Sm­riti Irani the “TV bahu” based on her star­ring role in a soap opera. When I asked Ma­ha­jan why Irani, he replied: To outdo the orig­i­nal In­dian bahu. Ma­ha­jan was also re­spon­si­ble for Swaraj’s ouster from the Vajpayee Cab­i­net and a dis­as­trous stint as Delhi chief min­is­ter.

Swaraj, who is mar­ried to lawyer Swaraj Kaushal and has a daugh­ter Bansuri, also a lawyer, who orig­i­nally wanted to be an ac­tor, was men­tored by L.K. Ad­vani and never hid her un­ease when Naren­dra Modi was pro­jected as the BJP’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date in 2015.

De­spite this she made it to the Cab­i­net, but with most of her port­fo­lio taken over by Modi’s over­ar­ch­ing Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice. Swaraj kept mum, put her head down and worked. Swaraj made in­no­va­tive use of so­cial me­dia, help­ing In­di­ans in dis­tress the world over. She per­son­ally mon­i­tored In­di­ans in trou­ble and was al­most like a Mother Teresa of Twit­ter, mak­ing the lethar­gic For­eign Min­istry put the in­ter­ests of those who were over­seas and in dis­tress, first.

Pre-empt­ing an even­tu­al­ity

Swaraj, who has warm re­la­tion­ships across party lines, de­spite her in­fa­mous vow to shave her head if So­nia Gandhi be­came prime min­is­ter, saw Congress lead­ers re­act with re­gret to her an­nounce­ment of not con­test­ing in the next elec­tions, while the BJP kept mum.

Swaraj had a kid­ney trans­plant in 2016 and prob­a­bly saw the writ­ing on the wall — if Modi and Amit Shah make it again in 2019, she will be headed straight to the Margdar­shak Man­dal — the BJP’s pow­er­less ‘old-age home’. Swaraj clearly pre-empted this even­tu­al­ity and en­sured that her bit­ter ri­val Arun Jait­ley, who has never won an elec­tion in his life, will also head for the man­dal.

Jour­nal­ists close to Jait­ley wrote that if Swaraj gets a Ra­jya Sabha seat she would have to work un­der Jait­ley. They also raised ques­tions on the tim­ing of her an­nounce­ment just as the cam­paign for the Mad­hya Pradesh As­sem­bly was on. Those who know Swaraj say she would never do that. They also main­tain that Swaraj had kept Modi posted on her an­nounce­ment.

So what next for Swaraj? Cur­tains on a very suc­cess­ful po­lit­i­cal ca­reer if Modi and Shah prove their dom­i­nance again. And, if the BJP is short of a sim­ple ma­jor­ity and needs out­side sup­port, Swaraj will be back in the reck­on­ing for the one job she has al­ways cov­eted — prime min­is­ter. As for most politi­cians, drink­ing from the elixir of power, Swaraj’s health prob­lems are un­likely to hold her back.

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 ?? Ramachandr­a Babu/©Gulf News ??
Ramachandr­a Babu/©Gulf News

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