By Rahul Dixit:
“FIRST, learn to listen, learn the art of questioning. That will help you in becoming a good journalist,” Sushma Swaraj’s voice had gone up a few decibels but never beyond the vicinity of an elderly advice. She had been confronted by an aggressive budding journalist who was convinced by his own facts and insisted upon the leader’s endorsement.
A lesson was quickly learnt. Before cutting teeth in the heady world of journalism, that lesson remained the starting point for many among that small group of journalism students who were interacting with the BJP stalwart at her New Delhi residence some 23 years ago. Being a part of that group, Sushma Swaraj’s advice remained etched in this scribe’s memory, mind and heart as did her motherly figure — though in her early forties then — and her calculated words. Recalling that episode while referring to Sushmaji in the past tense brings an undefined emptiness, a deep and overwhelming sense of emotion, even as the mind reconciles with the ultimate truth of life. Many facets define Sushmaji — a socialist, a torchbearer of Hindutva, a loyal servant of Bharatiya Janata Party, a seasoned politician, a fierce Opposition leader, a world-class orator, a soft-spoken and caring Minister, a happy companion of grace and humility. In her death, India’s political landscape has lost a ‘Little Giant’ who always stood tall among her contemporaries with an affable approach towards serving the nation.
Leaders like Sushmaji cannot be confined to the plain realms of politics. They tower above those menial boundaries to create an enigmatic bond with people cutting across party lines. The rough and tumble of politics never affected the humane core of Sushmaji’s personality. She was a people’s minister, a common man’s voice in Parliament which stood witness to her powerful, fiery and sensible speeches that offered valid arguments and immaculate details. Her dignity was characterised by upright and humble mannerism.
She was immensely successful in carrying on a great tradition imbibed in the illustrious company of late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee – of following Raj Dharma, of respecting Parliamentary etiquette, of keeping country above party. The emotional connect Sushmaji achieved with the masses through her witty replies and extraordinary efforts through the External Affairs Ministry to help distressed Indians cannot be explained merely in words. It’s a mysterious connection between hearts that understand emotions. The Indian Diaspora across the globe will always remember her as someone who responded to any crisis in any corner of the world.
Not many politicians in the world might have used Twitter so effectively to help a needy soul. Sushmaji was just a Tweet away, rescuing helpless Indians, allowing desperate Pakistanis urgent medical help in India, uniting sons with mothers, giving a new lease of life to India’s daughters made captive after treacherous marriages. Sushmaji’s efforts to save Kulbhushan Jadhav from gallows in Pakistan are well documented. She had put all her efforts into building a case for Jadhav in the International Court of Justice. The relief she expressed after the ICJ stayed Jadhav’s execution last month was sigh of a sensitive mother. She had promised to leave no stone unturned to secure Jadhav’s release. She will not be there to see the final outcome.
And she also will not be there to hand over the promised Re 1 fee to Adv Harish Salve who was to meet her Wednesday evening. A cruel blow of fate has left many such promises unfulfilled. The outpour of emotion in the country tells the story of a noble lady who made India her extended family with simple deeds. She has left a legacy of being a responsive minister, something that her successor S Jaishankar acknowledged as the first requisite he would need to serve the External Affairs Ministry. This is a big tribute to the woman who broke a political glass ceiling to become India’s youngest Cabinet Minister, who was one of most powerful voices of Opposition in the House, who donned the first Chief Ministership of Delhi as a woman, who fought an intense electoral battle in Bellary against Sonia Gandhi, who created her own space as EAM alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy overdrive. She gave us a unique amalgam of style, steel, and substance, a rare and soothing combination.
New MPs will miss her ever-encouraging words after their first speeches. Veterans in the House will miss her deft floor management. Friends across benches will miss the saree-clad fighter with a big bindi delivering a booming oration. People like Sushmaji leave a numbing void in life, which cannot be described in words. As the heart wrenches and mind recollects the memories left back, as one watches the verbal monstrousness unleashed in TV studios in the name of journalism, Sushmaji’s lesson rings out loudly… “First, learn to listen.” And listen did she — all her life — to silent sobs of the suffering, to the latent aspirations of the deserving, to the distant rumble of the events that were to arrive without notice ...!