Sushma Swaraj serves as the current union minister for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The MEA is colloquially known as the Foreign Ministry. Swaraj, only the second woman to hold this position, was appointed in May 2014 as part of Narendra Modi’s cabinet. A lawyer by training, she served as the BJP’s (Bhartiya Janata Party) most recent opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, frequently butting heads with former PM Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition. A long time BJP hand, she is considered to one of the “next generation” leaders who rose to further prominence following party trailblazer Pramod Mahajan’s death. Swaraj, along with party leader and senior statesman LK Advani, was part of an internal BJP group that opposed Modi’s rapid ascension and prime ministerial ambitions. Her appointment to the prestigious Foreign Ministry is seen as a reconciliation and unification attempt by both sides to avert a potential internal meltdown that would strengthen the opposition and deter from successful governance. Swaraj is considered to be an excellent orator with a penchant for dramatics. A formidable politician, Swaraj’s long career weaves through state, national, and party positions and includes various firsts.
Swaraj was born on February 14, 1952, in Ambala Cantonment, Haryana to Hardev Sharma and Laxmi Devi. A middle class family man, Hardev Sharma was heavily involved with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Swaraj’s political philosophy comes from growing up in this environment. After receiving her B.A. in English at S.D. College in Haryana as a gold medalist, she pursued her law degree at Punjab University’s Law Department in Chandigarh. She was the Best Cadet of the National Cadet Corps at S.D. College and received the Best Speaker award at law school. She received her L.L.B. and became a Supreme Court advocate. She participated in student politics, and was particularly involved with the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarti Parishad (ABVP), a BJP-led, right-wing national student organization and a close ally of the RSS. She then jointed the Janata Party, an entity created to oppose then PM Indira Gandhi’s state of emergency declaration. She led protests against the Gandhi regime but was one of the lucky ones not placed under arrest for the duration of the emergency rule.
In 1977, following the end of the emergency rule, Swaraj rode the wave of popular support for the Janata Party and was elected to the Haryana Legislative Assembly at the age of 25. She was confirmed as a cabinet minister for the Labor and Employment Department in the Devi Lal administration, making her the youngest cabinet minister in Haryana. She remained here till 1982. In 1980, Swaraj joined the newly established BJP and became its secretary, and later, the general secretary. She was reelected to the Haryana Legislative Assembly in 1987 and headed the education, food, and civil supplies departments. In her three years here, she was recognized as the Assembly’s Best Speaker each year. Swaraj failed to convert her popularity into a Lok Sabha seat, losing elections in 1980, 1984, and 1989 to Congress’ Chiranji Lal Sharma.
In 1990, Swaraj made the switch to national politics. She was elected to the Rajya Sabha. From 1992 to 1994, she served as the chairperson of the Joint Committee on Catering and a member of the Committee on Government Assurances. From 1994 to 1996, she served as the chairperson of the Committee on Petitions.
Swaraj finally found herself in the Lok Sabha in 1996 as a representative of the South Delhi constituency. In her first term, she served as a member on the Committee on Defense and the Committee of Privileges as well as the chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Upgradation and Modernization of Naval Fleet. She was also appointed as the union minister for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting during the 13-day Vajpayee