New Delhi: Fiery, passionate and provocative, former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was not one to cower down to a verbal challenge.
The BJP stalwart, who passed away Tuesday, matched her mentor, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in oratorial skills though her position on issues was not always in line with the times.
Swaraj wore her conservative political ideology on her sleeve — whether it came to banning Fashion TV because it didn’t align with Indian culture, or weighing in on the Supreme Court’s decision to revoke Article 377. But her speeches always received the attention they deserved. Here are a few.
On Article 370
Towards the end of her historic speech when the BJP government collapsed in 1996, Swaraj advocated the abolition of Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
“Yes, we are communal because we demand the abolishment of Article 370. Yes, we are communal because we fight for the national flag,” she said. “Yes, we are communal because we want the voices of Kashmiri refugees to be heard.”
The cause was dear to her and Tuesday, three hours before her death, she thanked the Prime Minister for scrapping Article 370.
That speech, when the Vajpayee government lasted only 13 days in 1996, was also known for her references to the Mahabarata and the Ramayana.
“This isn’t the first time in history that the true heir is being kept from the throne,” she said when the BJP lost the trust vote. “It has happened to Lord Ram in Treta Yuga. Amidst his coronation ceremony, he was sent off in exile. It also happened at the Dwapar Yuga with Yudishthir when the vile Shakuni’s tricks kept the true heir to the throne out of it.
“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’ll find many Manthras and many Shakunis opposing us. How can we stay in power?”
In 1997, when the I.K. Gujaral government was in power, Swaraj delivered another historic speech during the motion of confidence against the government.
“Whatever has happened in the political theatre of this country in the last 10 days is very shameful. That 10-day history is a history of fraud and infidelity,” she said. “When the motion of confidence was placed here 10 days before today, a journalist asked ‘Sushmaji what will happen today?’ I told him either this government’s nose will be cut off in shame or it will rise to be known. But on that day, I did not imagine that this government would lose its nose one day and die in another.”
Also read: Sushma Swaraj — the last of the Advani-Vajpayee Titans in Modi-Shah’s aggressive new India
On Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin
In 1999, when Parliament was dissolved and the BJP was no longer in power, the President called for fresh elections. Swaraj was sent to contest against Sonia Gandhi from Bellary in Karnataka.
The Congress had decided to nominate Sonia for the prime minister’s post, which Swaraj took great offence to on the grounds that Sonia was a foreigner.
“It hurts my sensibilities as even after the culmination of British rule and the sacrifices made by fellow Indians, no (native) is there to lead the country and a foreigner is being chosen,” she said.
Swaraj had threatened to don a white saree, shave off her head, sleep on the floor and eat only chickpeas if Sonia were to be sworn in as prime minister.
Tenure as foreign minister
In 2014, when the BJP rose to power after the Modi wave, Swaraj was made the foreign minister. Her quick responses to queries on Twitter and her willingness and availability to solve the ministry-related issues through the social media platform wooed the nation. During her tenure as a foreign minister, her UN speeches against Pakistan’s terror policies were a hit.
“Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Pakistan proposed what he termed as a four-point new peace initiative,” she once said. “I would like to respond. We do not need four points, we need just one — give up terrorism and let us sit down and talk. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others.”
During the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in September 2018, she targeted the organisation itself.
“I began by highlighting the unique and positive role of the UN but I must add that step by slow step, the importance, influence, respect and value of this institution is beginning to ebb. It is time to wonder if we are wandering towards the fate of the League of Nations,” she said. “The United Nations must accept that it needs fundamental reform. Reform cannot be cosmetic. We need to change the institution’s head and heart to make both compatible with contemporary reality.”
On banning Fashion TV
As information and broadcasting minister in 2001, Swaraj banned Fashion TV. “If FTV does not synchronise with our culture then it will be banned” she had said.
The same week, the Hindu Vahini protested against the celebration of Valentine’s Day. It is a mere coincidence that Sushma celebrated her birthday on Valentine’s Day, the day she decided to ban the channel.
Also read: A fighter with a stern smile, Sushma Swaraj could easily have been the Indira Gandhi of BJP