External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeting from hospital, saying she’s on dialysis and is being tested for a kidney transplant, has sparked a tremendous response. Many wished her good health, some even offered their own kidney. Such ardour reflects Swaraj’s special handling of her ministry — and her social media account. Traditionally, the minister of external affairs deals with the great and grand moments — historic visits, huge deals, state receptions of glittering pomp. But Swaraj goes beyond these, engaging with the small yet meaningful. She recently helped a young Indian woman, widowed in the US, to return home with her newborn child, tweeting gently, “We are with you…” She had an Indian embassy open its weekend-closed doors, so that a son could conduct his father’s last rites. She’s responded to desi cries, for insulin, evacuation, replacement passports (wryly noting, “Passports have a habit of getting lost on Fridays”), and helped Pakistanis get home, even rescuing a videshi bahu fasting against torture by Indian in-laws.
Her interactions are mirthful too. Famously, Venkat tweeted to Swaraj, complaining of a defective fridge, could she help? She replied, “Brother, I cannot help you. I’m very busy with human beings in distress.” To a quip on how she should’ve been in the army, Swaraj said, “I’d definitely have joined… at that time, women were not allowed… Now they say I’m overage” When a girl gushed, “Sushma Swaraj is so cute! I wish she had a son…”, the minister smilingly wrote, “This is interesting.”
She shares too; on her marriage anniversary, she tweeted her wedding picture, a striking young woman, who went on to become India’s youngest minister, gazing adoringly at her husband. Her frank admission of poor health is significant now — Indian netas are traditionally presented to be, and they project themselves as, larger than life. Yet, with characteristic openness, Swaraj has disclosed she’s not well. It’s easy to see why so many are tweeting, get well soon, ma’am.