Here’s the tragedy of India’s minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj. She’s one of the most likeable figures in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and yet her tenure as a minister has been largely forgettable. This holds a lesson. In an increasingly complex world, India needs to stop treating the foreign ministry as a parking lot for veteran politicians with no obvious aptitude for the job.
The problem with Swaraj’s performance is that she, as a foreign minister, could not step into international affairs. It can be recalled that in 2014, during the Scottish referendum on independence, she blurted out, “A break up of the UK? God forbid, I don’t think any such possibility exists at the moment.” This statement was naïve to say the least! If there was no possibility, why was the referendum going on. Irrespective of the fact that how much a Briton care about comments made by an Indian minister, this kind of statement can certainly hurt feelings of a few.
Or take Swaraj’s Twitter exchange last month with Assamese politician Badruddin Ajmal following India’s vote against Israel and the United States on a general assembly resolution condemning the US for recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. After a thank you tweet from Ajmal, Swaraj urged him to reciprocate. “Now you vote for us,” she tweeted, implying that India’s UN vote against trusted ally Israel was motivated by domestic vote-grubbing.
The mismatch of Swaraj and her ministry is evident on Twitter. In 2016, on the issue of doormat in Amazon Canada that showed Indian flag, turned the foreign minister into a patriotic tizzy. An apology was demanded from Amazon along with threats to rescind Indian visas for Amazon employees.
She also rescued an Indian from Pakistan and got involved in few other similar cases. However, when it comes to shaping the foreign policy at the level of head of the state, ministerial level or secretarial level, the dictate comes from the Prime Minister’s Office. All the credit that goes to successful foreign policy or bilateral ties invariable goes to Modi, rather than Swaraj. Before, the rise of Modi, Swaraj was in forefront for the Prime Ministerial candidate. Now all we hear about BJP is, without doubt, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and occasionally Arun Jaitley. It should be noted that Arun Jaitley does not have mass base and hence is not really a competitor of Modi. Other senior leaders such as Vajpayee and Advani have retired or forced to retire. The only other competitor left to Modi was Swaraj and she has been dumped to waste, which acts as a completing a full circle by him.