Mumbai: Many people have fond memories of former Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, who passed away in New Delhi late on Tuesday.
Among them is the family of a youth, Hamid Ansari, who spent over six years in a Pakistani jail on espionage charge and was released on December 18, 2018. Hamid had gone missing in Pakistan on November 11, 2012.
“It was during this ordeal that Sushmaji went out of her way to help us in getting Hamid safely back home,” recalls his father, Nehal Ansari.
“During the trying period, Sushmaji wrote as many as 96 officials letters to the Pakistani authorities regarding my son. She always responded positively to all our appeals for assistance and finally my son was freed with her intervention,” a grateful Nehal Ansari told IANS.
During those dark days, the Ansari family met Sushma Swaraj around a dozen times at her office in New Delhi as they struggled with the Pakistan government to get Hamid released.
“She was an amazing person. Though she was holding such a high office, she had absolutely no attitude, was very humble and down-to-earth, always made us comfortable though we were common people,” Ansari said.
Whenever the family sought to meet her, Sushma Swaraj was always available for them. They did not have to wait long for appointments or go through the bureaucratic hurdles, he added.
“In fact, last year, after Hamid’s release, she called us again to her office. She gave us a warm welcome, congratulated us, hugged Hamid and wished him the best in life. Sushmaji also told Hamid that her doors were always open for him for any help in future. That was the lady,” Ansari said.
After hearing of her demise early today, the Ansaris said they were “stunned”, but “Sushmaji will remain in our hearts forever” for all that she did for their son.
Hamid described Sushma Swaraj was “like a mother” to him, and after his release, she counseled him to look ahead in life. Hamid said, “she will always remain alive in our hearts”.
Incidentally, Hamid is currently penning the story of his Pakistan ordeal and is hoping to complete the book by December 2019, informed his father.
Another Mumbaikar who got unwavering support from Sushma Swaraj is former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, currently in Pakistan custody.
It was attributed largely due to Sushma Swaraj that the matter finally resulted in Jadhav’s hanging being stayed by the International Court of Justice last month. The Jadhav family - which has not interacted with the media - was in touch with Sushma Swaraj all through. They even met her in Delhi.
One of Jadhav’s neighbours, P. S. Menon said, “People in crises in foreign lands always looked up to Sushma Swaraj for help and she even took note of the Twitter messages, something that we have never witnessed before”.
“There are so many instances when Indian nationals having problems abroad or facing complications within the country could knock on her doors vide a Twitter message and be assured that it would be taken note of. She was indeed the ‘Common Man’s MEA’ in the true sense,” said an emotional Menon.
The Maharashtra Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday morning put up a portrait of Sushma Swaraj at the party headquarters in Nariman Point to enably workers and common masses pay their last respects to her.
Woman rescued by Sushma Swaraj
A 27-year-old hearing impaired woman who was rescued from Pakistan and brought back to India after being stranded there for 15 years has paid a moving tribute to former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who passed away on Tuesday night.
Geeta, who currently lives in Indore and after she was brought back to India in October 2015, paid tributes to the late Minister in sign language.
Called “India’s daughter” by Sushma Swaraj, Geeta had failed to find her family although many claimed to be her parents. Sushma Swaraj even tried to play a matchmaker for Geeta and sought marriage proposals for her.
Condolences and tributes to the former Foreign Minister, who died on Tuesday night after suffering a cardiac arrest, came in from neighbouring Pakistan also.
Taking to Twitter, Pakistan’s Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Hussain Chaudhry said he will miss his social media melee with Sushma Swaraj. “She was a giant in her own right,” the Minister said.
Chaudhry, who was Information and Broadcasting Minister, and Sushma Swaraj had a Twitter spat in March 2019 over Hindu girls who were allegedly abducted in Pakistan.
Sushma Swaraj, who had over 13 million followers on Twitter, was active on tweeting about major happenings. She made Twitter a helpline for people in distress, making sure she was easily approachable.
In this way, she gave the human touch to the Ministry of External Affairs and won millions of admirers across the world, including many in Pakistan.
She helped several people from Pakistan get an Indian visa for various medical reasons, from an open-heart surgery to a liver transplant.
In 2017, she won admiration when she granted a year-long medical visa to a Pakistani girl Shireen Shiraz for an open heart surgery.
The girl’s mother, Hira Shiraz, had that time tweeted: “Ma’am @SushmaSwaraj this is humble request to approve our pending medical visa request of my 1year daughter for her open heart surgery”
Sushma Swaraj responded: “We are giving visa for the open heart surgery of your one year old daughter Shireen Shiraz in India.”
The former Foreign Minister helped another Pakistani citizen, Shahzaib Iqbal, who reached out to her for help in getting a medical visa for the liver transplant of his cousin in November 2017.
He approached her on Twitter saying: “After allah you are our last hope.. kindly allow Islamabad Embassy (meaning Indian High Commission) to issue us medical visa.”
In reply, Sushma Swaraj tweeted: “India will not belie your hope. We will issue the visa immediately.”
Twitterati from Pakistan joined Indians in paying tributes to the former Foreign Minister.
“Sad to hear shocking news about #SushmaSwaraj. The personality of Sushma mam had an image of Iron lady. She also helped the Pakistani people, may Allah give peace to the departed soul.#RIPSushmaJi” tweeted one user from Pakistan.
“We as Muslims don’t believe in dusra Janam... But if there’s any, I would want #sushmaswaraj to be born in Pakistan and become a politician here..” tweeted another Pakistani user.
“I am from Pakistan, and we are not laughing, but actually commended all her work. We share the pain of this sudden demise,” said a tweet.
How Sushma Swaraj saved Kerala nurses and HIV victim's kin
Former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and a 70-year-old grandmother of two HIV positive children are deeply sad over the passing of former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Sushma Swaraj passed away in Delhi on Tuesday night following cardiac arrest. She was 67.
Chandy recalled that Sushma played a key role in the evacuation of Kerala nurses from Iraq in July 2014.
“She was someone whom I will never forget in the way she went out of her way to give us all the required support for over two weeks at the peak of the trouble that broke out in West Asia then,” said Chandy.
“She acted quickly well past midnight, when I called her to inform that the Air India flight which went to pick the 46 stranded nurses, could not land there. She told me she will call back in 15 minutes, and she did that. And she managed to get the landing permission for the aircraft to land at the airport, which helped to airlift these nurses immediately,” added Chandy.
70-year-old Sallamma told IANS that she was shocked to hear about the sudden demise of the former Union Minister.
“Had it not been for her benevolence that she showed up on my two HIV positive grandchildren, Benson and Bency, in full public glare here in 2003, our lives would have been in absolute misery,” said Sallamma.
The plight of the two siblings was first highlighted in 2003 after they were turned away from a school because of their HIV positive status.
The Kerala government did take up the case, but it was Sushma Swaraj whose efforts helped her the most. Sushma, after hearing about their woes and the ostracism they were facing, flew down to the city and met the two kids. Sushma hugged them and kissed them.
It was her hug that changed the lives of the two kids and the helpless Sallamma.
“It was because of this gesture that we started getting monthly support which took care of the children’s education needs. We will never forget her,” said Sallamma.
While Bency passed away in 2010 succumbing to the dreaded ailment, Benson is going to be 23 now.