External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s speech in (almost) impeccable Urdu, at the 30th All India Annual Hajj Conference, has the media AND blogland sitting up all agog.
To those spewing fervent admiration for the only Union Cabinet member who has the gumption to play against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his own backlot, here’s a thought – this is Sushma Swaraj defying, not validating, Narendra Modi. It’s no secret that there is no love lost between them, and that Modi brought her in to try to buy her silence.
The questions I’m asking are:
1. What’s the deal with the Minister for External Affairs speechifying at a Hajj-related conference? Where’s Minister for Minority Affairs Najma Heptullah? This is her official turf.
2. Did Modi put Swaraj up to this, under the impression that a Hindu BJP Cabinet minister speaking to a bunch of entitled Muslims in Urdu would work better for him than a Muslim BJP Cabinet Minister?
Either way, she was ostensibly, in this case, Modi’s firefighter: The BJP government is faced with a Muslim lashout following the Saudi Arabian government’s clipping the Indian Hajj quota by 20% this year – from 170,025 to 136,020. Unfortunately for the BJP government, this reduction is a Congress legacy: The deal for this year (it has to be renewed every year) was signed on 7 February 2014 by the UPA-II minister of state for external affairs.
But to me, it seems that it’s Swaraj and not Modi who’s come out smelling of roses. This was Swaraj laying the ground for the future – HER future, which is decidedly absent Modi (and Modìttvaväd). Swaraj has always been the most secular BJP leader, in praxis. Which is commendable considering that she comes from one of the most caste-empowered communities in the country – the Gurjar Gaur Brahmins. She broke away from her community’s hardnosed tenets, demonstrating her autonomy by taking a caste neutral surname: her husband’s first name.
This Urdu-ised appearance of Swaraj’s IS important – not because she is a BJP leader who spoke in the zabān-ě-dushman-ě-dilī, but because it marks her widening distance from Modi, Modìttva and Modìttvaväd. And she spoke in her zabān-ě-dost-ě-dilī.