Uzma, an Indian womam who was forced to marry a Pakistani man at gunpoint in Buner, Pakistan
returned to India via Wagah Border after interference of the Home Ministry. Uzma seeking blessings of Sushma Swaraj after her release
Sushmaji’s Twitter diplomacy has carved out a unique space in global diplomatic circles. She has effectively used not only to communicate with people at large but also for resolving their issues. She was globally seen as someone who is ever-ready to lend her helping hand to people in distress
Dr Vijay Chuathaiwale
That Sushmaji was an exceptional orator and articulate parliamentarian is something everyone knows. But what might be lesser-known facts are about her clarity of thoughts and purpose, her enormous ability to go into micro-details and last but not least is her ideological commitment.
Because of these qualities, she could undertake operations and projects of massive scale and execute it to perfection, which is certainly not an easy task in the government set-up. Take for example, the rescue operation in Yemen in 2014. It was Prime Minister Modi who worked out an arrangement with Saudi King so that there would be a narrow window of two hours every day for a week when Saudi side would stop bombing in Yemen. In a well-planned operation between various agencies, with then MoS General V K Singh stationed in Djibouti, India rescued 5000 Indian citizens and close to 2000 citizens from 48 countries (including USA, France, England, Germany and Israel). In the last five years, more than two lakh people who were trapped in a foreign land have been rescued and provided a safe passage to the homeland.
Sushma Swaraj with Geeta after her return to India. Geeta, the 27-year-old deaf and mute woman, who was rescued from Pakistan and brought back to India after
being stranded there for 15 years
“Reaching the unreached” is another hallmark of India’s foreign policy in last five years. One will be surprised to note that India’s Prime Minister had not visited several important countries for decades before Prime Minister Modi took charge. Sri Lanka, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Nepal to list a few. There were 39 countries where no Indian minister ever visited. Under “Vrihad Sampark Yojana” drawn by foreign ministry, it was planned that all 192 countries will be visited by at least one minister before the end of the term of last Lok Sabha. Till March 2019, barring three countries, 189 countries were covered. Sushmaji and her two Ministers of State visited 110 countries.
nother example of this unprecedented outreach is the India-Africa Summit. In the past, this summit used to be attended by 17 representative countries of Africa. Prime Minister Modi instructed to invite all 54 countries of the African continent for 3rd India-Africa Summit. Needless to say that each country has gladly accepted the invitation, of which 41 were represented by the top leadership of those countries.
Sushma Swaraj meeting family members of Indian men who went missing in Iraq, in New
Delhi on February 21, 2015
Under Sushmaji’s leadership, our embassies all across the globe were transformed into people-friendly “Home Away From Home”. During my visits abroad, members of Indian Diaspora repeatedly shared their pleasant experiences while dealing with Indian consulates or embassies. This people-friendly attitude created enormous goodwill among the global community. In addition, a lot of processes were simplified, obstructions eliminated, resulting into enhanced efficiencies. For example, now citizens of 161 countries can visit India using eVisa, which can be obtained online, significantly reducing the time in physically depositing a passport in embassy and receiving it after several days. Similarly, merging of PIO and OCI cards into one has given equal recognition to entire India Diaspora, irrespective of the colour of their passport. In innumerable cases, Sushmaji instructed our embassies to issue emergency visas for the urgent medical treatment in India, including many from Pakistan, generating enormous goodwill in those countries.
In our country, getting a passport was not an easy task. The major bottleneck was so few passport offices and Passport Seva Kendra. Ministry of External Affairs under Sushmaji’s leadership took a major drive to open maximum centres where people can apply for a passport. As of now, close to 375 centres are opened across India. It is being planned to has passport offices in each parliamentary constituency.
Sushmaji’s Twitter diplomacy has carved out a unique space in global diplomatic circles. She has effectively used not only to communicate with people at large but also for resolving their issues. She was globally seen as someone who is ever-ready to lend her helping hand to people in distress. No wonder, even Washington Post has named her “Supermom of State”. No other foreign minister has resolved so many issues, helped so many people in distress, so quickly, using social media. She opened doors of embassies over the weekend to issue visas in case of emergencies and doors of passport offices were opened so that newly-wed couple can enjoy a honeymoon. (So much was her popularity that someone even asked her to help her to repair his refrigerator, which she has politely declined.) At the same time, she opened an integrated web portal (www.madad.gov.in) to address all such grievances which was being monitored 24x7 by her office.
Operation Rahat: Indians rescued from Yemen in April 2015
I was fortunate to work with her closely because of my role in the party. First time I met Sushmaji was after I took charge of my current responsibility in BJP. Shyam Parande introduced me to her in her office. As soon as she heard my name, she warmly welcomed me and started talking to me as if she knew me for several years. Since then, I continuously experienced her warmth in interacting and guiding me. I always found her very warm but at the same time, very focused and clear in her thought process. She was always keen to interact with our ideological fraternity when she used to travel abroad. A few days before every major tour, Satish Gupta ji from her office would call us informing that EAM had kept specific time to meet our karyakartas. Meeting her was always a very memorable experience to each one of them.
In recently concluded elections, she led “literature committee” set up by party president. I was a member of that committee. We were entrusted to create literature/talking points (other than manifesto). During the meetings of this committee, I was mesmerised by her command on both Hindi and English, her choice of words and also her strive for perfection. She would loudly read the line, re-phrase it, ask everyone’s opinion, change the sentence, read it loudly again twice, before finalising. She was equally paying attention to color scheme, quality of paper and even font size.
Even though she hardly did any public program during the campaign, I requested her to have Facebook live interaction with global Indian Diaspora. She readily agreed. So popular was this virtual meet that it attracted more than 2.5 lac views on various social media platforms.
Last time I met her it was in the first week of June. She was as jovial as always, briefly reviewed what was achieved in the last five years, asked me several questions about my life before joining politics. Coincidently, it was my birthday. I told her about it before leaving and asked if I could click a selfie with her. She not only agreed to it but also fed me sweet with her hand. I touched her feet for blessings, never knowing that it would be my last meeting with her.
In her last speech on India’s foreign policy (on 13th March 2019), then Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj defined two pillars of India’s foreign policy under Modi government. First “Rashtrahit Sarvopari” and second, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. During her tenure as a foreign minister, she always walked the path based on both these principles.
We will miss you Sushma ji for a long period of time.
(The writer is In-Charge, Foreign Affairs Dept,
Bharatiya Janata Party)