Sushma Swaraj Not Contesting in 2019 Raises Questions About Govt

For starters, if health is indeed a concern, what is she doing in thegovernment?

Updated22 Nov 2018, 08:17 AM IST
5 min read

The senior-most woman leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Union Minister for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj has announced that she would not contest the next Lok Sabha election. This move of hers raises more questions than providing answers regarding her current stand in the party and government.

For starters, if her health is indeed a concern, what is she doing in the government? Would it not be better to stay at home and tend to her well-being? Or, does this show that being a minister in the Narendra Modi government is not taxing on one's health?

It is, however, possible that she is being truthful about the grounds for her decision, and is indeed unable to cope with the burden of public life. If that be the case, she has obviously not exited the government because she’s been cajoled against it by the BJP’s preeminent twoness.

After all, yet another vacancy after Ananth Kumar's death is something that can be done without.

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But, if her announcement is indeed a prelude to retiring from public life, the decision impinges on future continuance of several of her colleagues who remain in office despite indifferent or even critical health.

Indeed, when the Modi government and the BJP first faced challenges post-GST rollout in July 2017, social media was flooded with unsavoury jokes about the regime being in the ICU!

But What If Her Declaration Had Little to Do With Health?

Without a doubt, if Swaraj's statement on Tuesday, 20 November, is indeed a personal voluntary retirement declaration, it would add to the call that the prime minister must, henceforth, seek medical certification before appointing colleagues as ministers or retaining them.

But what if her decision has little to do with her health and is linked to other matters? If so, then what could these be? One has to be a shade Holmes-like and imagine Watson as audience. Because the answers are elementary!

There can be only two other reasons besides her health (not so precarious that she cannot continue as minister, yet severe enough to prevent her from tending to the parliamentary constituency, which a good MP must).

First, she has picked up the message from the power duo that she has been selected for promotion to Marg Darshak Mandal and be politely informed on the eve of 2019 polls that the party has "other plans" for her. Second, she has read the signs of an impending doom and no longer believes in the hype around the modern-day political Titanic: God himself could not sink the ship.

‘Swaraj is a Smart Politician’

All the possibilities we are faced with and examined so far suggest that Swaraj is a smart politician. To have survived cumulatively for five years in two innings, spread over more than a decade between 1977 and 1990 in Haryana's Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram politics, is indeed a pointer of consummate skills in political survival.

And these two tenures as minister were with one of the most astute Lals of Haryana politics as chief minister -- the patriarch, Devi Lal.

Haryana watchers recall that her diminutive size notwithstanding, she pulled her weight even with him. Moreover, any leader who could have given Sonia Gandhi a run for her money – as in Bellary in 1999 Lok Sabha polls – must have had a special way with the masses.

Swaraj Different From Other Women in Sangh Parivar

Women in the sangh parivar have been just a handful, and most have owed their position either to being the wife, mother or sister of someone powerful, or having a commanding leader as patron. Sushma Swaraj, on the other hand, was a trailblazer for being the first woman mass leader who made a career by sheer dint and tactically aligning with senior leaders.

Not a person with a background in the sangh parivar, she passed the litmus test at her first outing in the union ministry in 1996. She proved her sanskaari bonafides by banning, as Information and Broadcasting minster in her short 13-day tenure, an advertisement of a television brand which showed a woman in a billowing skirt. She followed this with other decisions, including the directive against Fashion TV.

In time, the sangh came to accept her. Yet, few would bemoan her decision for the sangh is now guided less by moral and ethical principles and more by political pragmaticism.

Ultimately, her sanskaari push proved to be a limiting factor and she too was reduced to being a mother or sister. In an article commenting on Swaraj's decision, Vani Tripathi -- a member of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and a former national secretary of the BJP -- wrote, "Sushma Didi is a mother figure and an elder sister to me in many ways."

The concept that a woman politician can inspire another only as a maternal figure and nothing else demonstrates that the firm grasp of patriarchy does not even spare women in politics, particularly in sangh parivar, which still does not admit women into the ideological fountainhead - the RSS.

Bhakts and observers who hope that the BJP is not an oligarchy yet pointed out that Swaraj has not said she is hanging her boots, but only ruled out coming back to the Lower House, suggesting that she can still weigh in with, apologies to Arun Jaitley, the unelectable tyrants, and choose the Rajya Sabha route for overstaying her welcome.

But, Shashi Tharoor has, on this occasion, not been a paradox that he once was and the politician in him has also read what an astute analyst and commentator has. He tweeted a couple of hours after Swaraj's announcement, "For all our political differences, I am sorry that @SushmaSwaraj will leave Parliament..."

But then, history is replete with instances of leaders not even being put up by their party in an election and later bouncing back – PV Narasimha Rao in 1991 being the most eminent instance. He had packed to return to his home state when Rajiv Gandhi's assassination ensured he became prime minister.

Even Swaraj in 1999 had declared that she would not contest Lok Sabha polls after being humbled in the Delhi Assembly elections in November 1999 by Sheila Dikshit and soaring onion prices. Yet she did, after the party pulled her out from the hat in the middle of the night.

For a new innings for Swaraj, one will have to bank on glorious uncertainties. In a regime where certainty and decisiveness have been its proclaimed hallmarks, possibility of such a development is not happy augury for its presiding duo.

We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated.

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Published: 21 Nov 2018, 03:25 AM IST

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