I still remember watching Sushma Swaraj’s campaign trail in Delhi on news channels in 1998; her fiery speeches attacking the Congress, reaching out to the refugees in transit camps, the tongue in cheek statements drawing thunderous applause from the audience and being thronged by women as she campaigned through the bylanes of the capital. She was the star campaigner of the party and had enormous mass appeal. Taking a jibe towards the ‘Italian’ Sonia Gandhi, she once told NDTV that ” Ordinary women connect with me because I dress and speak like they do”; which was indeed the truth.
When she took over as the Leader of Opposition in 2009, it was almost certain that she would be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. We all saw a mellow and mature Sushma Swaraj compared to the feisty Swaraj of the 1990’s. Though she never talked about it but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that she was preparing herself for the larger role. However, Narendra Modi led BJP’s victory in 2012 Gujarat polls altered the situation. The entire BJP cadre saw Narendra Modi as the BJP’s PM candidate and given his Sangh background he was also the RSS’s blue-eyed boy. Fighting all the internal tussles and differences, he was finally declared as the Prime Minister candidate.
Sushma Swaraj has had a remarkable career. She has many firsts to her credits as being the youngest ever Cabinet Minister in the history of India, first woman Chief Minister of the capital, first woman spokesperson of any political party and of course BJP’s first woman Leader of Opposition. She has won elections in Haryana, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh with remarkable margins. Though she lost the 1999 Bellary elections to Sonia Gandhi, nobody can deny the fact that she had put up a great fight and secured massive 3,58,000 votes in just 12 days of campaign.
As a Union Minister in the NDA government she handled various portfolios and brought radical and important changes in the ministries. She can be credited with establishing six All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) across India; an initiative she took as the Health Minister aimed towards providing economical yet efficient health services to people. As the minister of I&B and Telecommunications declaring Films as an industry was a milestone step as it made the industry eligible to get loans and be financed by banks which was otherwise funded by underworld. She freed the industry from the control of underworld and ironically the same industry now takes out petitions against her party. She can also be credited for much of the ‘radio boom’ in the country as she encouraged community radio services which enabled colleges and universities to start their own FM stations. In a span of over 3 years she brought the radio and cable services to a large population in the country. Her popularity can be assessed by the fact that Multiple System Operator (MSO) wanted Sushma Swaraj back as I&B Minister when she was moved to another portfolio.
Though her party has produced many women netas but it is Sushma Swaraj who is a feminist in true sense. It was due to her efforts that two thirds of the seats in BJP were reserved for women. Smriti Irani who is often touted as the next ‘Sushma Swaraj’ acknowledges this and thanks Swaraj for pushing through the reservation. She has been quite vocal about women equality & security. I still remember her Lok Sabha speech on International Women’s Day where she talked about increasing crime against women and urged that irrespective of political ideologies, the political class should ensure that women are safe in the country. She is also one of the few BJP netas to have come out strongly against the moral policing by organizations like the Sri Ram Sene. She has stated that her daughter who studies in Britain often visits pubs and it is up to her to decide whether she wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day or not. However, it’s unfortunate that her critics still view her as a traditional (may be orthodox) Bhartiya Nari who vowed to shave her head if Sonia Gandhi became India’s Prime Minister.
As the leader of the opposition, Swaraj has been brilliant in the Lok Sabha. An articulate and forceful speaker, she managed to keep the ruling party on its toes and successfully brought the agenda of the opposition on the table. Some of the outstanding debates in the parliament saw speeches by Sushma Swaraj; especially on price rise, LokPal Bill, Coalgate , Cash for Votes and the FDI. Whether it is the ‘sher-o-shayri’ with the PM or advising the young Manish Tiwari to learn ‘vinamrata; she has been one of the finest Lok Sabha speakers that the country has seen.
However, it would be wrong to blame the party entirely for this fall of hers. As a senior leader and a seasoned politician, Sushma Swaraj (after her initial sulk) should have come to terms with the fact that Narendra Modi enjoys immense support from the party cadre. She should have accepted him like her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha who might be the Deputy PM if NDA comes to power. Instead, she chose to rebel and brought out the differences out in open. She took to twitter to talk about her reservations on the inclusion of Sriramulu in the party who is a close associate of the Reddy Brothers whom she was once closely associated with. Her rift with Nirmala Sitharaman on the Telangana issue was also out when she retweeted a tweet that criticized Nirmala. Today, the usually vocal Sushma Swaraj is silent. She hasn’t campaigned much beyond Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. An active twitter user who tweeted even when she was detained by J&K CM has gone offline. She looked lonely when the BJP released its manifesto and hasn’t given any interviews of late.
Today, she is often ridiculed on the many satirical websites in the internet space and many even accuse her of being a part of fictional ‘Club 160’ in BJP that is working against Narendra Modi. Without any backing from a God-father, she emerged as a top BJP leader solely because of her hard work and capabilities. It is indeed sad that one of the tallest woman leader of the country and her party has been pushed into oblivion. A leader of her stature deserves more!