Loved by the Church, former BJP Minister Sushma Swaraj dies
by Nirmala Carvalho

Sushma Swaraj, who died on Tuesday at the age of 67, worked hard on the release of Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian priest seized in Yemen and held for over a year. She loved Mother Teresa. Card Gracias remembers her. Pope Francis called her "very spiritual".

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Sushma Swaraj, one of India’s foremost political leaders, has died. Reacting to the news, Card Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), lamented the loss of “a great Indian” who was “a very able administrator, a versatile leader and was effective in every assignment given to her.”

In his message of condolence, released yesterday, the cardinal mentioned the role Sushma Swaraj played, as External Affairs Minister, in the release of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian priest taken hostage in Yemen and held for over a year.

“All Indians abroad who were in any difficulty found in her a sympathetic Minister who went out of her way to help them,” writes the prelate.

Sushma Swaraj, 67, was one of India's best known and most loved political figures. She was Ministry of External Affairs in the first Modi government (2014 to 2019), but due to health problems did not stand for re-election in March.

Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004), who led a previous BJP government, she held the post of Health Minister.  

But for many, she will be remembered as the minister who could be contacted via Twitter, who often answered in person on social media queries by Indians abroad who needed diplomatic assistance.

A diabetic, Swaraj a underwent a kidney transplant in 2016. On Tuesday, she died of a heart attack.

In his message, Card Gracias notes that "Sushma Swaraj led the Government delegation at the canonisation of Mother Teresa. She had a special devotion for the Mother.” In addition, “She met Pope Francis on that occasion and the Holy Father later remarked later: ‘The Indian Foreign Minister is a very spiritual person.’”

Politicians of different stripes attended her funeral in Delhi. Rahul Gandhi, former president of the Indian National Congress, said that Swaraj's death came as a shock. He called her an "extraordinary political leader, a gifted orator and an exceptional Parliamentarian, with friendships across party lines".