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If Sushma Swaraj exits electoral politics, BJP might lose its last liberal façade

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New Delhi, Nov 20: Once, she was one of the BJP's vocal faces. In 2004, when the Congress was inching closer to forming the government following the defeat of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, she had threatened to shave her head if "foreigner" Sonia Gandhi went on to become the prime minister. Though Sonia saved her from the embarrassment, Sushma Swaraj has showed time and again that she was one of the saffron party's main faces ready to take up the responsibility in the post-Vajpayee-Advani times.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj

Swaraj, a seven-time MP, won from Madhya Pradesh's Vidisha constituency by a whopping margin of 4 lakh votes in 2014 and has carried out the responsibility of the external affairs minister quite successfully. She has kept a low profile all these years and did all she could to have direct contact with the people while doing her job. Sushma Swaraj will certainly be one of the top performers of the Modi government since 2014 if there is a survey at the moment.

Sushma Swaraj rules out contesting 2019 Lok Sabha elections

Yet, the 66-year-old leader told reporters in MP where she is campaigning for her party for the upcoming Assembly elections that she will not contest the Lok Sabha election next year and left it for the party to decide. The minister has cited health reasons for her decision to exit the political scenario.

It is true that Swaraj, who became a minister in Haryana at the age of 25 and also became the chief minister of Delhi in the late 1990s, is facing health issues since undergoing a kidney transplant in 2016. But is that the real reason why the top leader has decided to step aside?

A leader close to LK Advani

It is well-known that Sushma was always known to be close to BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani, who himself is quite sidelined in the party in the current times. When the saffron camp was seeing a serious tug of war between the supporters of Modi and those of Advani over who to become the party's face for the Lok Sabha election in 2014, Sushma's vote was clearly in favour of the older man who though had to surrender it to Modi. For Swaraj who had shouldered the party's responsibility in the Lok Sabha as an Opposition leader for a long time, the taste of neither getting it herself nor seeing her mentor getting it either was sour.

But Swaraj yet contested the 2014 elections since she did not want to make it look obvious. She won it too and though Modi wasn't exactly in a frame of mind to make her the foreign minister, yet made her so since as a seasoned leader of the party, Swaraj had a height which came to the aid of Modi's fragmented BJP. She could be put up as a face - one with a liberal touch to defend the government while removing her from the limelight would have put the Modi camp under more criticism. Swaraj silently went about doing her duty and that suited the BJP's new leadership perfectly well.

But Swaraj saw in the later days that she was a loner in the party. While the prime minister got most of the focus in foreign affairs, she has found herself at odds with new faces in the party. She was brutally trolled by Twitter handles followed by top BJP functionaries after her ministry transferred a passport officer for allegedly humiliating a Hindu-Muslim couple.

Swaraj is one of the last remaining Mohicans of the vintage BJP who looks a liberal when compared to the party's current face and that doesn't impress her detractors.

Swaraj is a leader who represents that school of oratorical prowess of blending literature and politics which the late Vajpayee was known for. If she indeed exits the political scene, the BJP will lose its soft face, perhaps for the final time.

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