How has Sushma Swaraj managed to thrive in the shadow of Modi

Sushma Swaraj has for sure impressed people, coming across as hyper-active and an accessible foreign minister. India’s External Affairs Minister won accolades from two prominent international publications in recent weeks. Her diplomacy on Twitter, that has saved the day for many Indians, has been the talk of the town.

While the Financial Times shortlisted her name for Top Women of the Year, US-based Foreign Affairs magazine featured Swaraj as a Top Global Thinker of 2016.

However, Prime Minister Modi’s globetrotting ways since he came to power in 2014 have ,somewhat, limited the scope of Swaraj’s portfolio. Her strong political views, exhibited during her previous government stint as Information and Broadcasting Minister under former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, haven’t been on display much this time around.

The point is not lost on some observers.

London-based Financial Times noted that Swaraj the foreign minister had been ‘overshadowed’ on the global stage by her ‘charismatic’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which may not be entirely wrong.

For instance, Swaraj made only six international trips in 2016 until September, before she was admitted to hospital on account of kidney complaints. During the same period, PM Modi visited at least 15 different countries, virtually taking over as India’s foreign minister.

The Prime Minister was on a foreign visit on more than 25 occasions last year, compared to less than 15 countries that Swaraj travelled to during the same period.

Swaraj has still managed to carve a reputation, of a minister who means business, for herself in international circles.

Her independent stand

Swaraj is known in Indian politics for sticking to her guns and speaking her mind.

There have been times when she has stood up to PM Modi, like in the lead up to the ratification of the land swap deal with Bangladesh last year. It was due to Swaraj’s insistence that the north-eastern state of Assam was included in the agreement, which involved India and Bangladesh exchanging some of their land enclaves lying in other’s country. According to reports, Modi was against including Assam in the deal.

That difference seems to be a thing of the past now though, as the PM himself took to Twitter to laud his foreign minister for making it to the list of Top Global Thinkers.

Back in 2004, she also warned that she would shave her head if Italian-born Congress President Sonia Gandhi was sworn in as India’s Prime Minister.

She has on many occasions shown support for Women’s Reservation Bill, a failed legislation that would have allowed for 33 percent of seats in Lok Sabha, Indian Parliament’s lower house, and all state assemblies to be reserved for women.

The law didn’t find much support in India’s male-dominated politics though, and couldn’t pass the Lok Sabha vote.

‘Agony Aunt’

As a foreign minister, Swaraj’s accessibility to the common man is quite remarkable compared to her predecessors.

She has endeared herself to her 6.7 million followers on Twitter by frequently responding positively to her constituents’ plea for help. The Indian foreign minister was involved in efforts to bring home thousands of Indian workers who got stranded in Saudi Arabia after crash in oil prices, which was commended both locally and internationally.

She has earned various nicknames for pioneering a new form of ‘Twitter diplomacy’, from ‘Common Tweeples Leader’ to the ‘Agony Aunt’.

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