She was diligent with an eye for detail, measured judgement. Her political career was untarnished.

 

 

She always spoke to me in Braj Bhasha. Sushma Swaraj was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was not born in a privileged home. On the contrary, she was a self-made individual. She was endowed with a golden tongue. By the age 20 her fame as an eloquent and combative speaker captured the attention of audiences in Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh. She was the youngest minister ever at 25.

She was diligent with an eye for detail, measured judgement. After Atal Bihari Vajpayee, she was the outstanding parliamentary debater in Hindi. She knew her Ghalib and quoted him to good effect in Parliament to match Manmohan Singh’s vast knowledge of Urdu poetry.

Sushma Swaraj had an engaging personality, with an enchanting and disarming smile. She possessed a sensitivity rare among professional politicians. She was immeasurably popular. Her political career was untarnished.

As External Affairs Minister she was underemployed. Her not being included in Cabinet after the May elections this year definitely distressed her as it so many of her admirers and friends.

She died at a comparatively young age. The lamp of life went out in an instant.

It will be a long time before another Sushma Swaraj appears on the Indian political horizon.

***

Raj Mohan Gandhi’s unbiased biography of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was published in 1990. I am re-reading it for a variety of reasons. The Sardar was a member of the Congress Party from 1918 to 1950. That the BJP should claim him as their own is doing injustice to his memory. He banned the RSS after Gandhiji’s assassination. He served as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet. Of course, they had differences, at times serious conflicts. Nevertheless, both put party and country before everything else.

The differences first arose in November-December 1947, over the role of Gopalaswami Ayyangar, Minister without portfolio, dealing with Kashmir. Sardar Patel objected to Ayyangar asking the Premier of East Punjab to release 150 motor vehicles for Kashmir. He wrote to Ayyangar, “The question should have been referred to the Ministry of States… I would suggest that the relative papers may now be transferred to the States Ministry and in future the Kashmir administration may be asked to deal with the Ministry…”

Here Sardar Patel was wrong. Kashmir came under Nehru’s jurisdiction. Ayyangar sent a copy of Patel’s letter to Nehru, who did not approve of the Sardar’s interference. He wrote his deputy an ill-tempered letter: “Gopalaswami Ayyangar has been especially asked to help in Kashmir matters. Both for this reason and because of his intimate knowledge and experience of Kashmir he had been given full latitude… I really do not see where the States Ministry comes into the picture, except that it should be kept informed of the steps taken…

“All this was done at my instance and I do not propose to abdicate my functions in regard to matters for which I consider myself responsible. May I say that the manner of approach to Gopalawami was hardly in keeping with the courtesy due to a colleague?”

Sardar Patel replied in his own handwriting, “Your letter of today has been received just now at 1 P.M. and I am writing immediately to tell you this. It is caused me considerable pain… Your letter makes it clear to me that I must not or at least cannot continue as a Member of the Government and hence I am tendering my resignation. I am grateful to you for the courtesy and kindness shown to me during the period of office which was a period of considerable strain.”

Nehru replied that very day, “I am sorry that what I wrote to you gave you pain. I am myself very unhappy about the trend of events and the difficulties that have arisen between you and me. It seems that our approaches are different, however much we may respect each other. If I am to continue as Prime Minister, I cannot have my freedom restricted and I must have a certain liberty of direction. Otherwise it is better for me to retire. If unfortunately either you or I have to leave the Government of India, let this be done with dignity and goodwill. On my part I would gladly resign and hand over the reins to you.”

Sardar Patel sent an immediate reply, “I have no desire to restrain your liberty of direction in any manner nor have I done so in the past… The question of your resignation or your abdication of your functions does not arise at all. I am at one with you in that the decision may be taken with dignity and goodwill and I will strain every nerve to help you in doing so but you will not, I am sure, want me to continue long as an ineffective colleague.”

This is how great men should conduct themselves—with dignity and goodwill.

 

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