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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2041

Sushma Swaraj ji: a breath of fresh air in the Indian sub-continent

Hemanta Abewardena writes from London…

Smt. Sushma Swaraj, the Union Minister for External Affairs in India, is no stranger to displaying her compassion, whenever the needs of humanity emerge in the murky waters of world politics throughout her political career.

She stood by us, the Sri Lankans, during the dark periods of our recent history too, while being fully aware of the potential consequences back home, in the event of a single misstep at the distressing times.

This week, while being true to her spirit, Mrs Swaraj used her Diwali message to nurture and propagate an ideal close to her heart – something that she has always been good at, when it comes to delivering: “On the auspicious occasion of Deepawali, India will grant medical Visa in all deserving cases pending today,” tweeted Mrs Swaraj on Thursday, while celebrating the Festival of Light – Diwali.

Mrs Swaraj was responding, especially to the Pakistanis, who were desperate to come to India for medical treatments, despite the existing hostilities; as the visa requirements have got tighter for obvious reasons, those who need urgent help, have been tweeting Mrs Swaraj for intervention, perhaps as the last resort.

This is not the first time that Mrs Swaraj did not let the severely-strained relationship between the two nuclear-armed nations get in the way of her humanitarian spirit. In the past, on her watch, the only thing that a visa applicant needed was a letter from the foreign affairs chief of Pakistan and Mrs Swaraj did not hesitate to do her part to make the process as smooth as possible to issue the visa for the person in question.

One may argue that Mrs Swaraj knows the pain that a human being can go through while being seriously ill, as she is someone who recovered from a serious kidney problem about two years ago. It may be true, but she has intervened in the issues, which are not medically related too.

For instance, in August last year, when the honeymoon of a newly-wed couple to Europe was hanging in the balance as the wife lost her passport, in their desperation all they did was to tweet to Mrs Swaraj: the husband, Faizan Patel, a photographer, was planning the honeymoon with his wife, Sana Fatima Khan, in Europe, only to find that the wife had lost her passport, two days before the trip.

While embarking on the trip alone, Mr Patel tweeted to Ms. Swaraj with a selfie inside the plane with his wife’s photo in the empty seat! The reply was swift and effective: “Ask your wife to contact me. I will ensure that she is with you on the next seat,” Mrs Swaraj tweeted back.

Having made sure that the issue had been addressed, Mrs Swaraj tweeted again, A few hours later, she followed with another tweet, “My office has reached you already. You will get a duplicate Passport tomorrow.”
Not only did Mrs Patel – nee Khan – get the passport, but also she made the trip to Europe on her honeymoon too, much to the delight of the families and friends involved.

Mrs Swaraj, who became the youngest cabinet minister at the age of just 25 in 1977, is a member of the ruling BJP, a party that its political opponents like to portray as an anti-Muslim front. Yet, some of the most prominent recipients of her kind gestures have been Muslims that include Pakistani health tourists.

Her intervention in getting back an Indian Muslim woman from Pakistan, who has been forced to enter into an unhappy marriage, is a case in point. Describing the woman in question, Uzma Ahmed, India’s daughter, Mrs Swaraj welcomed her with a tweet, “Sorry for all that you have gone through,” when the former came back to India through Wagah Border Crossing, while kissing the Indian soil.

Very recently, Mrs Swaraj’s personal intervention to grant a visa for a seriously ill Pakistani woman, named Hijaab Asif, prompted her to issue a series of heavily emotional tweets in extreme gratitude: “@SushmaSwaraj What do I call you? Super woman? God? No words to describe your generosity! Love you ma’am. Cannot stop praising you in tears!!!,” Ms Asif said on her Twitter account. In another tweet, a risky one, the patient in question said, “Lots and Lots of Love and respect from here. Wish you were our prime minister. This country would have changed.”

Mrs Swaraj personal intervention didn’t end with just issuing visa or passports to the needy. When Indian labourers lost their jobs and faced imminent food crises due to the fall of oil price, Mrs Swaraj took steps to ensure they are looked after until they return to India.

It is not an easy task to identify and address individual issues, while governing over a billion people. Her endless humanitarian gestures, however, signal the birth of a unique phenomenon, when, the odds against such a development is very high in a region, where corruption and nepotism are as old as hills.

In short, Smt. Sushma Swaraj has, time and again, proven that she is fully worthy of being branded as a regional role model in the catwalk of South Asian politics.

- Asian Tribune -

Sushma Swaraj ji: a breath of fresh air in the Indian sub-continent
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