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Remembering Sushmaji's Twitter Diplomacy

June 24, 2024 10:44 IST
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Ms Swaraj was a conscientious woman who understood suffering and pathos and attempted in her inimitable way to mitigate them, recalls Rup Narayan Das.

IMAGE: Sushma Swaraj will long be remembered for being that rare minister who exuded such warmth that people didn't hesitate to reach out to her in times of need. All photographs: PTI Photo from the Rediff Archives

Today (June 24) when the United Nations observes the 'International Day of Women in Diplomacy', it is propitious to recall the indelible imprint of the late Sushma Swaraj, who was India's external minister during Narendra D Modi's first tenure as prime minister, for her ingenious use of Twitter as a tool to mitigate men and women in distress.

Foreign Policy magazine in 2016 included Ms Swaraj in the list of 15 global leaders for fashioning a novel brand of Twitter diplomacy. Others on the list included, among others, then German chancellor Angela Merkel, then US secretary of state Hilary Clinton, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

Foreign Policy noted that when around 10,000 Indians working in Saudi Arabia faced a 'food crisis' in 2016, Ms Swaraj tweeted about the issue to six millions of her followers on social media.

She posted information for the migrants about rations provided by the Indian embassy in Riyadh, claims for unpaid wages and transportation to India by the government. The week-long campaign produced the desired result.

Earlier through her twitter handle Ms Swaraj reached out to Indians stranded in Yemen, and also Indians who lost their passports abroad.


Stories of her twitter outreach abound. In a heart warming gesture while she was recuperating at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi after her kidney transplant, she tweeted that she had asked for a report from the Indian consulate in Dubai about an Indian national who had walked long distance to get a court order to return home.

In June 2016, she rescued charity worker Judith D'Souza after she was kidnapped in Kabul.

When a man tweetd that his sister, a flight attendant, was held in Saudi Arabia by traffickers, she coordinated with local authorities there to free her.

In June 2016 at her behest her office brought home a 12-year-old boy from Bangladesh six years after he was kidnapped.

In October 2017, she came to the aid of a Pakistani national by granting him a medical visa for a liver transplant at a hospital in Delhi. The Pakistani national, Hamid Ali, had put out a series of tweets tagging Ms Swaraj requesting a medical visa.

On the morning of March 10, 2019, when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after take off in Addis Ababa, there were four Indians among the 157 dead, she used Twitter to reach out to family members.

Ms Swaraj was not only an outstanding parliamentarian, she was a conscientious woman who understood suffering and pathos and attempted in her inimitable way to mitigate them.

On one occasion she chose to attend her house maid's marriage ceremony. She explained her gesture carried a powerful social message that the maid had excess to powerful people which would deter any harm to her.

Her genteel nature and mannerism disarmed the Opposition and endeared her to all cutting across party lines.

At a time when China attempted to impose its footprint in South Asia in an aggressive way to out space India, she very meaningfully noted while China is the big brother, India is the elder brother.

The observation that women tend to engage more eagerly in transformative, rather than self-serving, leadership resonated well in Sushma Swaraj's persona.

Data amply demonstrate that when women serve as Cabinet ministers or in high Constitutional positions or in statutory bodies they introduce progressive legislation relating to social protection, education and economic empowerment.

Dr Rup Narayan Das is a former senior fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and also the Indian Council of Social Science Research. The views expressed are personal.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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