Sushma Swaraj: A Journey of Leadership and Public Service
Sushma Swaraj, born on 14 February 1952 in Ambala Cantonment, Haryana, was an exceptional Indian lawyer, politician, and diplomat. Her illustrious career spanned several decades, during which she held various significant positions and achieved numerous milestones. Let’s delve into the life and contributions of this remarkable woman.
Early Life and Education
Sushma Swaraj was born into a Punjabi Hindu Brahmin family to Hardev Sharma and Shrimati Laxmi Devi. Her father was a prominent member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. She began her educational journey at Sanatan Dharma College in Ambala Cantonment, earning a bachelor’s degree with majors in Sanskrit and Political Science. Later, she pursued a law degree at Panjab University, Chandigarh, and showcased her oratory skills by winning the Best Hindi Speaker award for three consecutive years in a state-level competition held by the Language Department of Haryana.
In 1973, Sushma Swaraj commenced her practice as an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. Skilled in the legal field and actively involved in politics, she joined George Fernandes’s legal defence team in 1975, a significant turning point in her career. She actively participated in Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution Movement and later joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), where she eventually became a national leader.
Early Political Career
Sushma Swaraj’s political journey took off as she became a member of the Haryana Legislative Assembly. Winning the Ambala Cantonment assembly seat at the young age of 25, she served from 1977 to 1982 and later from 1987 to 1990. Holding various cabinet positions, including Minister of Labour and Employment and Minister of Education, Food, and Civil Supplies, marked her early political career.
In 1990, she was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha, and in 1996, she was elected to the 11th Lok Sabha from the South Delhi constituency. Throughout her early political career, Sushma Swaraj showcased her leadership skills and commitment to public service.
Sushma Swaraj’s career was marked by significant ministerial roles. She served as the Union Cabinet Minister for Information and Broadcasting during the 13-day government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996. In 1998, she became the fifth Chief Minister of Delhi, making her the first female Chief Minister of the city. Re-elected to the 12th Lok Sabha from the South Delhi Parliamentary constituency, she served as the Union Cabinet Minister for Information and Broadcasting with additional responsibility for the Ministry of Telecommunications.
Her notable decisions included declaring film production as an industry, enabling the Indian film industry to be eligible for bank finance. She also initiated the establishment of community radio at universities and other institutions.
Strong Opposition Leader
Transitioning to national leadership, Sushma Swaraj won the Vidisha constituency in Madhya Pradesh during the 15th Lok Sabha elections. Appointed as the Leader of the Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha, she played a crucial role in the BJP’s victory in the 2014 Indian general election.
Minister of External Affairs
One of the most significant phases of Sushma Swaraj’s political career was her tenure as the Minister of External Affairs from May 2014 to May 2019. As the second woman to hold this esteemed position after Indira Gandhi, she implemented India’s foreign policy under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
During her time as the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj played a pivotal role in addressing various global issues. Her compassionate approach in handling complex cases of Indian citizens stranded abroad earned her the title of “India’s best-loved politician.”
Controversies and Criticisms
Not without controversies, Sushma Swaraj faced criticisms in her political journey. One significant incident involved her role in issuing a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the travel of Lalit Modi, a fugitive involved in a cricket scandal, during his stay in the UK. Some perceived this as assisting Lalit Modi in the travel visa process, sparking public debate.
Distinctions and Achievements
Sushma Swaraj’s journey was marked by remarkable distinctions and awards. The youngest-ever Cabinet Minister in the Government of Haryana at 25, State President of the Janata Party in Haryana at 27, BJP’s first female Chief Minister, Union Cabinet Minister, general secretary, spokesperson, Leader of the Opposition, and Minister of External Affairs—she remains the only female Member of Parliament (MP) honoured with the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award.
Beyond India’s borders, she advocated for the recognition of the Roma community’s connection to India during the International Roma Conference.
Personal Life and Legacy
Sushma Swaraj’s personal life was intertwined with her political career. Married to Swaraj Kaushal, a prominent advocate, the couple had a daughter named Bansuri. Active in various aspects of public service, her family supported her endeavours.
A Nation’s Loss
Tragically, Sushma Swaraj’s life was cut short on 6 August 2019, when she suffered a heart attack and subsequently succumbed to a cardiac arrest. Her death led to an outpouring of grief across India and beyond. Posthumously awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2020, prestigious institutions—the Foreign Service Institute of India and Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra—were renamed in her honour.
Sushma Swaraj’s legacy endures as a testament to her dedication to public service, leadership, and unwavering commitment to the betterment of India and its citizens. Her journey, marked by milestones and achievements, remains an inspiration for generations to come.