Veteran BJP leader Sushma Swaraj passes away

BJP leader and former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who had earned accolades from Indians both within the country and abroad for her prompt responses to people in distress as the country’s foreign minister, passed away on the night of August 6. She was 67.

The senior BJP leader was brought to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at 10:15 PM and was straight away taken to the emergency ward.

Sushma Swaraj was born on 14 February 1953 at Ambala Cantt, Haryana, to Hardev Sharma and Shrimati Laxmi Devi. Her father was a prominent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member. Her parents hailed from Dharampura area of Lahore, Pakistan. She was educated at Sanatan Dharma College in Ambala Cantonment and earned a bachelor’s degree with majors in Sanskrit and Political Science. She studied law at Punjab University, Chandigarh. A state-level competition held by the Language Department of Haryana saw her winning the best Hindi Speaker award for three consecutive years.

In 1973, Swaraj started practice as an advocate in the Supreme Court of India.

Swaraj began her political career with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in the 1970s. Her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, was closely associated with the socialist leader George Fernandes and Sushma Swaraj became a part of George Fernandes’s legal defence team in 1975. She actively participated in Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution Movement. After the Emergency, she joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. Later, she became a national leader of the BJP.

She was a member of the Haryana Legislative Assembly from 1977 to 1982, acquiring the Ambala Cantonment assembly seat at the age of 25, and then again from 1987 to 1990. In July 1977, she was sworn in as a Cabinet Minister in the Janata Party Government headed by then Chief Minister Devi Lal. She became State President of Janata Party (Haryana) in 1979, at the age of 27 years. She was Education Minister of Haryana state in the Bharatiya Janata Party–Lok Dal coalition government during the period of 1987 to 1990.

After a tenure in national level politics, in October 1998 she resigned from the Union Cabinet to take over as the first female Chief Minister of Delhi. Swaraj resigned from the position in December the same year.

In April 1990, she was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha and remained there until she was elected to the 11th Lok Sabha from South Delhi constituency in 1996.

Swaraj was elected to the 11th Lok Sabha from South Delhi constituency in April 1996 elections. She was Union Cabinet Minister for Information and Broadcasting during the 13-day government of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996.

She was re-elected to 12th Lok Sabha from South Delhi Parliamentary constituency for a second term in March 1998. Under the second PM Vajpayee Government, she was sworn in as Union Cabinet Minister for Information and Broadcasting with additional charge of the Ministry of Telecommunications from 19 March 1998 to 12 October 1998. Her most notable decision during this period was to declare film production as an industry, which made the Indian film industry eligible for bank finance. She also started community radio at universities and other institutions.

In September 1999, BJP nominated Swaraj to contest against the Congress party’s national President Sonia Gandhi in the 13th Lok Sabha election, from the Bellary constituency in Karnataka, which had always been retained by Congress politicians since the first Indian general election in 1951–52. During her campaign, she addressed public meetings in the local Kannada language. She secured 358,000 votes in just 12 days of her election campaign. However, she lost the election by a 7% margin.

She returned to Parliament in April 2000 as a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh. She was reallocated to Uttrakhand when the new state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh on 9 November 2000. She was inducted into the Union Cabinet as Minister for Information and Broadcasting, a position she held from September 2000 until January 2003.

She was Minister of Health, Family Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs from January 2003 until May 2004, when the National Democratic Alliance Government lost the general election.

Swaraj was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha for third term in April 2006 from Madhya Pradesh state. She served as the Deputy leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha till April 2009.

She won the 2009 election for the 15th Lok Sabha from the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh by the highest margin of over 400,000 votes. Sushma Swaraj became Leader of Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha in place of Lal Krishna Advani on 21 December 2009 and retained this position till May 2014 when in 2014 Indian general election her party got a major victory.

Swaraj had served as the Indian Minister of External Affairs under Prime Minister Narendra Modi from May 2014 to May 2019. She was responsible for implementing the foreign policy of Narendra Modi. She was only the second woman to hold this position after Indira Gandhi.

In 1977, she became the youngest ever Cabinet Minister in the Government of Haryana at 25 years of age. In 1979, she became State President of Janata Party, Haryana State at the young age of 27. Sushma Swaraj was the first female Spokesperson of a national political party in India.

She had many firsts to her credit as BJP’s first female Chief Minister, Union Cabinet Minister, general secretary, Spokesperson, Leader of Opposition and Minister of External Affairs. She was the Indian Parliament’s first and the only female MP honoured with the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award. She has contested 11 direct elections from four states. She had served as the President of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Haryana for four years.

On 19 February 2019 Swaraj accepted the prestigious Grand Cross of Order of Civil Merit, which was conferred by the Spanish government in recognition of India’s support in evacuating its citizens from Nepal during the earthquake in 2015.

During the times of Emergency, on 13 July 1975, Sushma Swaraj married Swaraj Kaushal, a peer and fellow advocate at the Supreme Court of India. The Emergency movement brought together the couple, who then teamed up for the defence of the socialist leader George Fernandes.

The couple have a daughter, Bansuri, who is a graduate from Oxford University and a Barrister at Law from Inner Temple.

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