Former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who extended a helping hand to many Indians in distress abroad and acquired a reputation as one of the most accessible ministers in the first term of the Narendra Modi government, died suddenly on Tuesday night after a cardiac arrest. She was 67.
Swaraj, who was India’s first full-time woman foreign minister (Indira Gandhi held additional charge of the ministry when she was prime minister) suffered the cardiac arrest late in the evening and was immediately taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). She died after efforts to revive her failed.
“She was brought to the hospital after she had collapsed at home. She reached AIIMS emergency at about 09:35 pm,” said a hospital spokesperson.
A team of doctors attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to revive her, but she couldn’t make it. “All resuscitative measures were taken but she could not be revived,” the spokesperson added.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, who was at the hospital, confirmed her death.
In her last tweet, at 7:23 pm, Swaraj posted: “Thank you Prime Minister. Thank you very much. I was waiting to see this day in my lifetime.” It was a reference to the Lok Sabha effectively abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and converting the state into two Union territories — J&K and Ladakh — realising what had always been a key objective of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its members.
“She will be remembered fondly for everything that she’s done for India. My thoughts are with her family, supporters and admirers in this very unfortunate hour. Om Shanti,” he wrote on Twitter.
Swaraj is survived by her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, and their daughter Bansuri, who are both lawyers by training, like the minister too was.
Swaraj, a nine-time member of Parliament, opted out of contesting the April-May general elections, making the announcement as early as November last year. To be sure, that Swaraj may not fight a direct election after undergoing a kidney transplant in December 2016 and been suffering from diabetes had been an open secret within the BJP.
“It is the party which decides, but I have made up my mind not to contest the next [Lok Sabha] elections,” Swaraj said in Indore in the middle of the election campaign in Madhya Pradesh, adding that she had conveyed her decision to the party leadership because of health reasons. She did say that she wasn’t quitting politics, only not contesting the election.
“Madam [Sushma Swaraj] – Thank you very much for your decision not to contest any more elections. I remember there came a time when even Milkha Singh stopped running,” her husband Swaraj Kaushal, a former governor of Mizoram, said in a series of tweets after her announcement.
Modi praised her performance in the ministry. “I can’t forget the manner in which Sushma Ji worked tirelessly as EAM in the last 5 years. Even when her health was not good, she would do everything possible to do justice to her work and remain up to date with matters of her Ministry. The spirit and commitment was unparalleled,” he wrote on Twitter.
Swaraj entered the Haryana assembly in 1977, and became a minister in the state cabinet at the age of 25. She was a former chief minister of Delhi and has been part of every BJP government at the Centre except the current one. Her electoral challenge to then Congress president Sonia Gandhi from Bellary, Karnataka, in 1999 was one of the most discussed electoral battles of the 1990s. Gandhi won the election by 56,000 votes.
She served as minister for information and broadcasting as well as health minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP government from 1998 to 2004. She won the 2009 election to the 15th Lok Sabha from the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh and became Leader of Opposition
We are saddened to hear about the untimely demise of Smt Sushma Swaraj. Our condolences to her family and loved ones,” the principal opposition party, the Congress, which was among the first to express condolences over the death of Swaraj, wrote in a tweet.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said he was shocked, describing her as an “extraordinary political leader, a gifted orator & an exceptional Parliamentarian, with friendships across party lines.”
The fact that her popularity cut across political lines was clear from the reactions of Congress leaders such as Shashi Tharoor and P Chidambaram to her decision not to contest the elections.
“For all our political differences, I am sorry that Sushma Swaraj will leave Parliament,” Tharoor said.
“Braving illness, Smt Sushma Swaraj has served the country with great dignity. We wish Smt Sushma Swaraj good health and a long life,” Chidambaram tweeted at the time.
n her stint as external affairs minister, Swaraj was recognised as perhaps the minister most accessible to ordinary people, who actively sought her out for help when they found themselves in a crisis, whether it was someone who had lost a passport while abroad or offering a visa to someone who found the red tape involved in getting one too much to handle. She did so with gentle humour. One Twitter user, software engineer Samit Padhy wondered whether it was indeed Swaraj who was responding to the tweets or “some PR guy” “doing his/her duty for what they are being paid for.” Swaraj replied in March: “Rest assured – it’s me, not my ghost.”