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 take a closer look at the life and contributions of this remarkable woman.
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. Her parents originally hailed from Lahore, Pakistan. Her educational journey began at Sanatan Dharma College in Ambala Cantonment, where she earned a bachelor's degree with majors in Sanskrit and Political Science. She later 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 began her practice as an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. She was not only skilled in the legal field but also actively involved in politics. Her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, was closely associated with the socialist leader George Fernandes. In 1975, she joined George Fernandes's legal defence team, which was 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 would eventually become a national leader.
Sushma Swaraj's political journey took off as she became a member of the Haryana Legislative Assembly. Notably, at the young age of 25, she won the Ambala Cantonment assembly seat, serving from 1977 to 1982 and later from 1987 to 1990. She held various cabinet positions during her tenure, including Minister of Labour and Employment and Minister of Education, Food, and Civil Supplies.
In 1990, she was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha. However, it wasn't until 1996 that 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 a series of 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. She took a momentous step in 1998 when she became the fifth Chief Minister of Delhi, making her the first female Chief Minister of the city. Her political journey continued as she was re-elected to the 12th Lok Sabha from the South Delhi Parliamentary constituency, where she served as the Union Cabinet Minister for Information and Broadcasting with additional responsibility for the Ministry of Telecommunications.
Sushma Swaraj's notable decisions during this period included declaring film production as an industry, which enabled the Indian film industry to be eligible for bank finance. She also initiated the establishment of community radio at universities and other institutions.
Sushma Swaraj's political career saw her transitioning to national leadership. In the 15th Lok Sabha elections, she won the Vidisha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, earning the distinction of retaining her seat by a significant margin. She was appointed as the Leader of the Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha, a position she held until May 2014. Her leadership in this role helped the BJP secure a major victory in the 2014 Indian general election.
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 only the second woman to hold this esteemed position after Indira Gandhi, she was responsible for implementing 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. She made headlines by handling complex cases of Indian citizens stranded abroad, and her compassionate approach earned her the title of "India's best-loved politician."
Sushma Swaraj was not without controversies, and she faced criticisms in her political journey. One significant incident was her involvement 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 helping Lalit Modi in the travel visa process, and it stirred public debate.
Sushma Swaraj's journey was marked by many remarkable distinctions and awards. She became the youngest-ever Cabinet Minister in the Government of Haryana at the age of 25. Her achievements included becoming the State President of the Janata Party in Haryana at 27. Sushma Swaraj held various roles, such as 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.
Her contributions extended beyond India's borders. She highlighted the Roma community's connection to India during the International Roma Conference, advocating for their recognition as part of the Indian diaspora.
Sushma Swaraj's personal life was intertwined with her political career. She married Swaraj Kaushal, who was also a prominent advocate, and the couple had a daughter named Bansuri. The family was actively involved in various aspects of public service.
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 was met with an outpouring of grief from people across India and beyond. She was cremated with full state honours at the Lodhi Crematorium in Delhi.
In her honour, the Indian government awarded her the Padma Vibhushan posthumously in 2020. Additionally, two prestigious institutions, the Foreign Service Institute of India and Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra, were renamed after her, paying tribute to her remarkable contributions.
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.