“Sushma Swaraj is critical. She is in AIIMS,” I saw this message in a WhatsApp group of journalists. I immediately replied, “It’s all lies. I only met her today at 12 pm and she is perfect.”
Hardly did I know that it was a matter of a few minutes. She had suffered a cardiac arrest and had passed away. The confirmation of her death came as a shock to me as I had spent nearly 50 minutes with her on Monday, discussing politics and her non-inclusion in Modi’s Cabinet.
My appointment with the former Union minister was at 12 pm on Monday (6 August) and despite the incessant rains, I reached Upasana Building on Hailey Road — the office of her daughter — on time to catch up with her. Swaraj arrived a few minutes later and welcomed me with her open arms. In fact, this was how she would meet her friends — with an exuding warmth. When I complained about how she didn’t meet me for the last month, Swaraj explained that she was settling down at her new residence.
"From now onwards, I will start meeting at my daughter’s office. Bansuri (her daughter) has told me that I can meet the people here as she is in court in the afternoon," she said.
My association with Swaraj goes back to 1993 when I was with The Free Press Journal. We both developed a strange rapport, and within a few years she became a good friend. As she got elevated to the BJP spokesperson, party general secretary, first woman Delhi chief minister, the Information and Broadcasting Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, the Leader of Opposition during the UPA 2 government, and then as the external affairs minister in the first term of Narendra Modi government, there was no change in her attitude towards me. In fact, she was accessible to most of the journalists. Her annual get-together with scribes to celebrate the New Year was an event in itself.
In fact, it was in January 2019, at the New Year celebration at the lawns of Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan, that I asked her confidentially as to why she didn't contest this time. Though she preferred not to be candid, I knew she expected to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
Having undergone a kidney transplant, she was advised to keep away from dust. However, this did not deter her from campaigning for the BJP in her own way through social media. At the release of the BJP election manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha election at the BJP headquarters, Swaraj was very articulate in listing out the achievements of the Modi government, which was applauded by Modi himself.
At that time, she had no doubt of being included in the Modi Cabinet for the second time. Due to her seniority and her excellent work in the Ministry of External Affairs, she was sure to become the foreign minister again.
So, my obvious question, when I met her on Monday was: “Why didn’t you become the minister?" She replied, “It’s all destiny.” However, when prodded further, it became evident that politics within the BJP had put spokes on her inclusion in the Cabinet.
It is no secret that Swaraj was considered to be in the LK Advani camp, but lately, she had managed to come in the good books of Modi. Still, she had rivals in the BJP who tried their best to pull her down. There were camps within the party and she was completely isolated. She, hwoever, didn’t believe in gossiping, and instead, preferred to concentrate on her work.
Wearing a pink saree and jacket, Swaraj appeared to be in good spirits on Monday. She was used to a colour code. (On Monday, it was white, Tuesday, it was pink and likewise). In fact, she was jovial and for the first time, opened-up with me, as never before. We talked about the health of her friends in the Cabinet and outside it.
Swaraj felt sad about the passing away of former parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar, who suffered from cancer and was given 90 days. "This is how life is, one doesn’t know what happens next," she remarked. She wished former finance minister Arun Jaitley a speedy recovery.
When asked whether she expected that former foreign secretary S Jaishankar would become the external affairs minister, she nodded her head and stated that she had told him that if she was ever removed from her post, he would become her successor. There was no other person in the BJP who could take her place. However, given her maturity and experience, she, somehow, also knew of being excluded from the Cabinet.
With Jaitley preferring to be out due to his ill-health, she was also kept out, though she has completely recovered from her kidney transplant.
When asked about being given a gubernatorial post, Swaraj stated that she was not interested to be out of Delhi as her daughter was working in the national capital. Her husband, Swaraj Kaushal would be shifting from one place to another, which she didn’t want. She confided in me that she was offered the post and it was conveyed to her through the newly-appointed BJP working president JP Nadda, but she refused.
"I have seen so much in life and I don’t aspire to become a governor anymore," she remarked.
“What next?” I asked. “I will start meeting people,” she replied. Pointing at an idol of Lord Krishna, she remarked, “He must have thought of something good for me.”
Before leaving, as usual, I hugged her and bid adieu, not knowing that I will not meet her ever again. I would only hear the news of her death at night.
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Updated Date: Aug 07, 2019 17:03:30 IST