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Sushma Swaraj: A leader who stood up for Indians in distress across the globe

Sushma Swaraj, former external affairs minister and senior BJP leader, passed away on Tuesday night. She was 67. The senior BJP leader was brought to AIIMS around 9:30pm and was straight away taken to the emergency ward. AIIMS doctors said she died of a cardiac arrest.
 
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Proactive, strong and sensitive was how Sushma Swaraj defined the first 100 days of foreign policy in Modi 1.0 — that defined her personality too. And she set a benchamark of proactively standing up for her countrymen in distress that many a younger successor in South Block will find hard to match.
 
Days before she was to demit office, against the desires of many a countrymen here and beyond shores, the light in her first-floor office burnt bright till late in the evening as she consulted officials and tied up loose ends. Conscientious to a fault, she was not the one to leave accumulated grime for the next Foreign Minister to clear.
 
Help was a "tweet away"
 
With the effective use of Twitter, she had with one stroke removed the ponderousness and remoteness that used to mark the office of the Indian Foreign Minister. Her readiness to help each and every distressed Indian abroad also became the butt of jokes as well as endearment. Even her husband Swaraj Kaushal couldn’t resist a humorous jab when asked why he wasn’t among her 13.1 million followers on Twitter. “Because I am not an Indian abroad in distress,” he replied.
 
“At 67, that was too young,’’ said an Ambassador on learning of her passing away. Indeed the man on the street was rooting for a second term for Swaraj as Foreign Minister. But the die for change of hands at the Foreign Ministry may have been cast when she announced even before the General Election was announced about her unwillingness to contest from Vidisha due to her frail health.
For one among the handful of Cabinet Ministers who had served in the Vajpayee Government, she had observed and participated in the statecraft that underpinned India’s foreign policy for an uninterrupted 20 years. 
 
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An inevitable pick in Vajpayee Cabinets, she met each visiting dignitary for the 10 years she was in the Opposition owing to then PM Manmohan Singh’s collegiate approach of ensuring all stakeholders in the country’s foreign policy were kept abreast.
 
A Prime Minister usually keeps some foreign policy cards close to the chest for these are entwined with matters of high strategic importance. Though critics pointed out that Prime Minister Modi gave the impression of keeping more than a fair share with himself, such broadsides never wore her down. 
 
Despite indifferent health in the end, Sushma Swaraj met all her ministerial commitments with aplomb and ebullience, travelling from Bishkek to Brasilia without a crease on her forehead. 
 
She may be the only woman leader from the non-Muslim world to address the Organisation of Islamic Conference, some of whose members do not allow women to drive cars.  As the diplomat added, it is too early for her to feature in the obituary columns.

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