Haryana cabinet at 25 to Modi cabinet at 62: The long career of Sushma Swaraj

26 May-2014: If there’s something that’s bound to make Nawaz Sharif a little queasy at Narendra Modi’s swearing-in, it’s not the absence of chicken biryani at the dinner table, but the presence of Sushma Swaraj, who is being touted as the new external affairs minister of the country (though no official confirmation has been received). No one can blame the Pakistan Prime Minister given Swaraj’s penchant for fiery rhetoric. While visiting the family of Lance Naik Hemraj — who was allegedly beheaded by Pakistan Army infiltrators on 8 January — Swaraj said, “If his (Hemraj’s) head could not be brought back (from Pakistan), we should get at least 10 heads from their side.”

Haryana cabinet at 25 to Modi cabinet at 62: The long career of Sushma Swaraj

Haryana cabinet at 25 to Modi cabinet at 62: The long career of Sushma Swaraj

Photo: AFP

Some would say that the statement against Pakistan is quintessential Sushma Swaraj – bold, aggressive, and made for instant media attention. It’s the kind of fire in the belly that made her a highly effective leader of the Opposition on the floor of the House, flaying the UPA, relentlessly and effectively on a gamut of issues – from FDI to Coalgate, from the Chinese incursion to price rise. Swaraj’s stature ought to have made a significant portfolio inevitable. However, with rumours of discord with Narendra Modi doing the rounds of the political circles, there was widespread speculation that she would be sidelined. Firstpost’s political editor Sanjay Singh noted in an earlier article that Swaraj’s ride to the cabinet will be a bumpy one.

“Sources in the BJP have said that Sushma Swaraj wants to head the external affairs ministry. The foreign ministry is one of the most significant ministries of the country and is especially of great importance to Modi, given his history of discord with the West. The external affairs minister also become a part of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

“However, given Swaraj’s conflicted relationship with Modi, it is not clear what role she would get to play in the government, her expertise notwithstanding. Right before the results were declared, Swaraj had reportedly told Singh and Gadkari that she doesn’t wish to be a part of a Modi government – that might go against her now. Given that the massive mandate BJP has clinched is being largely attributed to Modi, there’s little room for negotiations by others.

“A BJP leader said that Modi’s critics will have to fall in line or stay out of his way – and this was made clear in the Parliamentary Board meet attended by all top BJP leaders.”

Swaraj’s history of discord with Modi, most recently, can be traced back to the time when BJP was caught in the midst of an internal strife with LK Advani opposing the Gujarat CM’s nomination as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. When Advani protested and then quit, BJP reportedly turned to Swaraj to dissuade the veteran leader. While Swaraj obliged, she never criticised Advani, nor hailed Modi’s ascent in the party. She is known to harbour a healthy amount of distrust for Modi and his meteoric rise within the party. She had remain tight-lipped on the BJP’s side-lining of the old guard – and when most BJP leaders gave sound-bytes galore to the media defending its decision. Even recently, post BJP’s win, Swaraj was probably the only person who refrained from heaping profuse applause on Modi. Speaking to the media as the imminence of a BJP victory became evident, she thanked BJP workers and the country — without mentioning Narendra Modi. While she immediately set the heated speculation to rest by quickly tweeting an acknowledgement of her party leader, the questions about her role in the new Modi sarkaar were never put to rest — until now. Swaraj’s confidence perhaps rests on her proven track record as a party loyalist and leader. She served in the past as the chief minister of Delhi, held the information and broadcasting and telecommunication portfolios as a part of the NDA government in the 12th Lok Sabha. She also served as the union health minister for a year from 2003 to 2004. Swaraj’s political career is longer than that of many of her male peers. In 1977, at 25 years of age, she became the youngest ever cabinet minister – she held the education portfolio in Haryana. In 1979, she became the state president of the BJP in Haryana. She was also the first woman spokesperson for any political party in India and won the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award. Swaraj’s initiation to the right wing politics of the country began at home. Swaraj, who was born in Ambala to a prominent RSS activist father. Her rousing rhetoric stems from her interest in the Hindi language, having presided over the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Haryana for four years. Swaraj, a law graduate who practiced in Supreme Court, was also an NCC cadet in her youth. Swaraj is undoubtedly a valuable addition to Modi’s cabinet. But the question now is not of her stature but of the freedom of her new job given Modi is expected to exert considerable direct control on this key portfolio. Will their past differences rear their ugly head? Or will Swaraj accede to the new reality of a Modi-fied BJP?

(Input source: FP)