Feisty, warm, acceptable to all across the political spectrum and a people’s minister are some of the ways former Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is expected to be remembered.

Swaraj, 67, passed away late Tuesday after suffering a cardiac arrest. Born on 14 February 1952 at Ambala in Haryana, she studied law in Panjab University, Chandigarh. A seven-time member of Parliament, Swaraj also served as MLA thrice in the Haryana assembly and was chief minister of Delhi for a brief period in 1998. But earlier this year, she surprised everyone by opting out of the April-May general elections, citing poor health.

In meetings with her counterparts, Swaraj was known to use wit, repartees and charm to push India’s cause. “She could grasp the most complex ideas and express them in the simplest and succinct manner," said an Indian diplomat who did not wish to be named. Her years as leader of the Opposition between 2004-14 when she met an array of global leaders during their visits to India, ensured her exposure to diplomacy.

That she made an impression on friend and foe alike was evident from a Twitter post by Pakistan’s science and technology minister Fawad Hussain: “Government of Pakistan Condolences to the family of Smt Sushma Swaraj, I’ll miss twitter melee with her, she was a giant in her own right, RIP." The reference was to the sparring between the two on Twitter.

Swaraj joined politics at a time when few women were part of India’s political scene, taking part in the anti-Emergency movement launched by Jayaprakash Narayan against then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Incidentally it was in 1977 that she fought her first election.

Among the several firsts to her credit are —youngest cabinet minister in the Haryana government at the age of 25 in 1977 and first full-time woman foreign minister (Indira Gandhi held additional charge of the ministry when she was prime minister). An acute diabetic, in November 2016, she took to Twitter to disclose she was on dialysis and awaiting a kidney transplant—something rare for Indian politicians. She used the social media platform extensively to connect with the public. In her last Twitter post on Tuesday at 7.23 pm, Swaraj said: “Thank you Prime Minister. Thank you very much. I was waiting to see this day in my lifetime." The reference was to Parliament passing the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to the state on Tuesday.

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It was through Twitter that she made the Indian foreign ministry —often seen as elitist, bureaucratic, distant and indifferent—people friendly, accessible and responsive to the needs of the common people. Quick to respond and intervene when issues were brought to her notice, Swaraj was approached for help not only by Indians abroad but those of other nationalities as well —notably Pakistan. A quick read of her Twitter timeline shows she had intervened on many occasions to grant visas to Pakistani nationals wanting to visit India for medical treatment. Her Twitter interventions in aid of common people earned her the title of “Mother Teresa."

Within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) though, she was ‘Didi’ (elder sister). Swaraj stepped into national politics in 1990 when she became a Rajya Sabha member and later contested Lok Sabha polls. In 1998, though she was a cabinet minister in former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, Swaraj resigned to take on the job of Delhi chief minister. Although the BJP lost the assembly election in Delhi, Swaraj had made her presence felt in national politics. She became a protégé of senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani who groomed her in politics at the national level.

The former external affairs minister was instrumental in launching the BJP in the southern part of the country in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls when she took on former Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Bellary, Karnataka.

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