One might not have agreed with her remarks on the Babri Masjid and disapproved of her threat to shave off her head if Congress leader Sonia Gandhi was sworn in as prime minister, but there was no denying former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s skill as an orator. Lounge picks five of her significant speeches and tweets.
‘TELL US WHY THE CARAVAN WAS LOOTED’
Swaraj’s speeches often brought together her skill as an orator with her interest in poetry. One of the most memorable of these was an exchange with prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2011, when Swaraj was the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. Singh, usually not given to fervent exchanges, couldn’t restrain himself when Swaraj used Urdu couplets to allege charges of corruption against the government. She said: “Tu idhar udhar ki baat na kar/yeh bata ki kafila kyun luta/hamein rehzano se gila nahin/teri rahbari ka sawaal hai (Do not deflect attention by talking of banalities, tell us why the caravan was looted. We don’t have any complaints against the passers-by, we are questioning your leadership)." In a departure from his restrained self, Singh replied, “Maana ki tere deed ke kaabil nahin hoon main, tu mera shauk dekh, mera intezar dekh (I may not be worthy of your attention, but look at my zeal and my perseverance)."
‘YES, WE ARE COMMUNAL’
A short-lived Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was facing a no-confidence motion in Parliament in 1996. Kenneth Cooper wrote in The Washington Post about it: “Vajpayee, considered a moderate within the BJP, gave in after his repeated attempts to soften the party’s reputation for religious intolerance and expand its support in Parliament failed." It was Swaraj who rose to his defence and made what has come to be known as the fiercest speech of her career. “When one Manthra and one Shakuni can keep the likes of Lord Rama and Yudishthir out of their right to rule, then if you take a look around this House, you will find many Manthras and many Shakunis opposing us, how can we stay in power?" she said. Swaraj went on to attack those who considered the BJP’s ideology communal: “Yes Mr Speaker, we are communal, because we advocate the singing of Vande Matram, Yes, we are communal, because we fight for the respect of the national flag, we are communal, because we want to abolish Article 370, we are communal, because we want to put an end to discrimination based on caste and creed in this country, yes we are communal, because we want to get the Uniform Civil Code (Saman Nagrik Samhita) implemented in this country."
‘TERROR AND TALKS CAN’T GO TOGETHER’
Between 2018-19, Swaraj made a series of significant speeches about the deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan. One of these was at the 73rd UN general assembly debate, in response to Pakistan’s accusation that India was stalling the dialogue process. She said, “Those who take innocent human lives in pursuit of war by other means are defenders of inhuman behaviour, not of human rights. Pakistan glorifies killers; it refuses to see the blood of innocents." Swaraj carried the thought forward at the foreign ministers’ meet of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) states—incidentally the first invite for an Indian minister in five decades. Even though she didn’t make a direct mention of Pakistan, Swaraj was quite clear in her speech: “If we want to save humanity, we must tell the states who provide shelter and funding to terrorists to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist camps..."
‘THE 3 AM TWEET MINISTER’
During her stint as the external affairs minister, Swaraj began to be described by supporters as the “3 am tweet" mantri, who brought a certain accessibility to the post by connecting with and helping people across geographies. To a tweet made in jest by a man who claimed to be stuck on Mars, she famously replied: “Even if you are stuck on the Mars, Indian Embassy will help you." In 2015, she came to the assistance of 168 Indians stuck in Iraq, after a video was tweeted to her. In the same year, Sabah Shawesh from Yemen, married to an Indian, sent an SoS tweet about being stuck in a conflict situation in her home country. Swaraj responded promptly and Shawesh was reunited with her husband and baby.
‘I AM READY TO UNDERGO ANY PUNISHMENT’
In 2015, Swaraj was accused of having lobbied for Lalit Modi, former chief of the Indian Premier League, and a fugitive in Britain, to get a travel visa for his wife’s surgery. She denied the accusations and claimed she had only come to the aid of Modi’s wife on humanitarian grounds. “If it is a crime to help a woman like her, I want to say that I have committed this crime and, standing in this House, I accept my crime before the entire nation. I am ready to undergo any punishment this House may want to give me."