Reference is made to Page 4’s beautiful picture of Sushma Swaraj ji as published in Guyana Times on August 7, 2019. She is well known among Guyanese in the diaspora, if not in Guyana. There are several of us (in the diaspora and in Guyana) who have reasons to mourn the demise of this iconic figure. She closely interacted with a few of us since the 1990s, as we pressed for closer relations between India and the diaspora, and we lobbied for greater financial assistance for Guyana and the Indian diaspora.
Although Shrimati Sushma never visited Guyana or the Caribbean region, the people were close to her heart. She was very sympathetic to and supportive of Guyanese and Caribbean causes. She supported an increase in financial assistance – and scholarships, the Know India Programme, and she introduced the Senior KIP, which Ravi Dev and myself, championed at a meeting in August 2016 in Delhi— to Guyana and the greater Caribbean region. It was our connection with Indian politicians and lobbying decades ago that led to greater assistance to Guyana.
Sushma was very approachable. She was always willing to engage and interact. She rarely turned down a request and facilitated her guests. She had no ego and arrogance. She was willing to listen and to take advice. Her smile, intellect, composure, nationalism, demeanour, charisma, friendliness, encouragement and support for the diaspora would be missed. Guyanese politicians should be like her.
I have very fond memories of the charismatic Indian politician. I met her several times in India, New York, and New Jersey, including at her residence shortly after she became External (Foreign) Affairs Minister, where we had extensive discussions on Guyana and the Caribbean region. My first encounter with her was during her stint as Information Minister in the late 1990s and again in New York when she inaugurated Asia TV station in Edison into the new century. Several prominent Guyanese were invited to that event that was graced by Members of Congress and the US Administration. Many Guyanese subscribe to TV Asia that is broadcast internationally on cable. I interacted with her at several diaspora gatherings (PBDs) in India. Beside that encounter, I had lengthy conversations with Sushma on the Caribbean region and the diaspora in North America and Europe and even met her when she served as in the Delhi Assembly as Chief Minister and as Opposition Leader. She was a patron and financial supporter on conferences relating to Guyana and the greater Caribbean in India and the Caribbean. I helped to plan and organise several of these conferences including the last one held at Benaras Hindu University last January. And she supported requests for increased financial aid to Guyana and the region going back to the late 1990s when she was minister of government.
Sushma ji, as she was fondly called, had a very friendly, down-to-earth and warm personality. She was also very knowledgeable of world affairs, having served as Foreign Minister for five years. Aside from the late PM Atal Beharri Vajpayee and Lal Kishan Advani, she showed the greatest interest among Indian politicians on Indians in the diaspora. She was very close to the aging Advani (approaching 90) on diaspora and other affairs and would interact with us in New York and at PBDs in Delhi. She often solicited ideas on the diaspora and issued messages related to their events.
Sushma was among the nominees for PM position of the BJP in 2014, but she stood down making way for Shri Narendra Modi, who led the party to victory and became External Affairs Minister. She was very popular and won all of her contests to Parliament, except once when she lost to Sonia Gandhi in 2004 from the Bellary constituency in Karnataka.
In December 2010, she was the keynote speaker on a conference on Indian culture in the diaspora praising overseas Indians for their cultural retention and for promoting India’s soft power. The forum provided an opportunity for us Guyanese to have an exchange with the respected Minister. In 2013, she invited the esteemed Ravi Dev and myself for a special summit in Delhi on a conference on preservation of documents pertaining to Indian indentureship document and history. The Indian government was committed to digitising historical documents in Guyana so that diaspora countries would be on the same wavelength to facilitate research. But regrettably, government support was not forthcoming and the idea was shelved.
Guyanese politicians would have met her in 2018 in Delhi at the parley for MPs of Indian descent. She also interacted with former President Donald Ramotar in 2010 in Delhi and in Gandhinagar, and she had exchanges with Foreign Minister Carl Greendige on international issues and on foreign aid for Guyana. They would attest to her friendliness. Sushma interacted with Guyanese and Caribbean people at the first International Yoga Summit in New York at the UN in 2010.
I am grief-stricken and will miss the firebrand leader of the ruling BJP. She had very good innings, although she has dismissed at 67. She served with honour and integrity; there was never any allegation of impropriety against her. Guyanese politicians should take a page from the book of Sushma.
Vishnu Bisram (PhD)