The nation on Wednesday bid an emotional farewell to Sushma Swaraj, one of its most outstanding politicians, as her mortal remains were cremated with full state honours in the presence of top political leaders and hundreds of her grieving admirers.
Swaraj died at AIIMS here late Tuesday night at the age of 67 after suffering a massive heart attack, plunging the country in a state of grief and sparking an outpouring of condolences from across the world. Wrapped in a tricolour, her body was brought to the Lodhi Road electric crematorium in a funeral procession from the BJP headquarters, where BJP workers and mourners gathered in large numbers to have a last glimpse of the leader.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, BJP president Amit Shah, veteran party leader L K Advani, senior Congress leaders Anand Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot along with hundreds of people were present as the mortal remains were consigned to flames amid sounding of ceremonial bugle and strains of Vedic hymns in the background. Swaraj's daughter Bansuri performed the last rites as tears rolled down her face. The prime minister was later seen comforting her and Swaraj's husband Swaraj Kaushal.
Earlier in the day, President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Modi, Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and scores of other leaders paid homage to Swaraj at her residence. At the BJP headquarters here, many cried inconsolably and others fought back tears as senior party leaders, including BJP president Amit Shah and working president J P Nadda, covered Swaraj's body with the party flag. Swaraj's husband and daughter saluted her and the mortal remains were later kept on a hearse decorated with flowers for the final journey.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Union ministers Harsh Vardhan and Ashwini Kumar Choubey, BJP working president J P Nadda were among hundreds of mourners who bid adieu to the outstanding politician. Several world leaders, including Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and UNGA President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, condoled Swaraj's death as they remembered her as "dear sister" and an "extraordinary woman".
"She (Swaraj) was a good friend of Bangladesh. With her death, Bangladesh has lost a good friend. Bangladesh will recall her contributions in taking the relationship between the two countries to a new height," Hasina said. Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa referred to Swaraj as his "dear sister" and said she always called him 'my brother'. The UNGA president said she was saddened by the news of Swaraj's death and described her as an extraordinary woman and leader who devoted her life to public service. Swaraj was a tough fighter in the political battlefield and was admired and respected across party lines.
In a condolence letter to Swaraj's husband, Swaraj Kaushal, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi recounted her warm personal relationship with the senior BJP leader. "Sushma Swaraj was a lady of extraordinary gifts, her courage, determination, dedication and ability manifest in every position she held." "Above all, it was her warm personal qualities that brought a special lustre to her years in public and political life," Gandhi said.
Swaraj had unsuccessfully contested against Gandhi in 1999 from Bellary Lok Sabha constituency in Karnataka, an election that attracted nationwide attention as it was the Congress leader's electoral debut. BJP patriarch L K Advani, in his condolence message, said :"She touched everyone with her warmth and compassionate nature. I do not recall a single year when she missed bringing my favourite chocolate cake to me on my birthday." Swaraj was considered Advani's protege. Advani said he had worked with her since the beginning of her "illustrious innings" in the Bharatiya Janata Party. "And over the years, she became one of the most popular and prominent leaders of our party, in fact, a role model for women leaders," he said.
Political leaders across the country, irrespective of their party affiliations, paid glowing tributes to Swaraj. As India's external affairs minister in the previous government, she left behind a legacy of an easily-accessible minister who helped the diaspora in distress with her revolutionary social media outreach. Several path-breaking measures such as the passport infrastructure expansion and enhanced engagement with the East were the highlights of her tenure.
She was only the second woman to hold the portfolio after Indira Gandhi, who briefly kept the external affairs ministry under her while being the prime minister. Swaraj had many firsts to her credit. She was the youngest cabinet minister in Haryana government, the first woman chief minister of Delhi and the first woman spokesperson for a national political party in the country.