So far, apart from that one outburst in 2004, when she threatened to shave her head if Sonia Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India, Sushma Swaraj has resolutely maintained a sober, middle-of-the-road image, quite apart from many of her more ideologically strident party colleagues. There was of course the tiny matter of her bursting into a spontaneous jig at Rajghat at 2 a.m. in the morning in June 2011, which she explained as her way of boosting the morale of the BJP’s activists.
Sonia Gandhi did not take up the job in 2004 and the nation was spared the sight of a bald Swaraj and soon, the BJP leader settled down to her duties as a Parliamentarian. She is an effective speaker in the House, sharp and articulate, not given to needless bombast or rhetoric. Great things were once predicted for her.
Of late, she has been rather quiet. Ministers of External Affairs traditionally are fairly voluble and also peripatetic. They travel to exotic countries, they host foreign dignitaries, they issue statements and sign bilateral deals. Today, Indians are very interested in the country’s global profile-Swaraj, who was a rival to Narendra Modi in her party, thus landed a good job in the new government.
Except that her boss is himself very interested in running foreign policy. It is he who has been jetting off to Japan, the US, Australia, Myanmar and many other countries and has not seen it as especially important to take the Foreign Minister along everywhere; even when she goes with him, as to the US, it is very much his show. He wants those photo ops not just with other heads of state but also with NRIs. Let’s face it, Sushma Swaraj could not have filled up Madison Square Garden.
But a minister has to keep busy, so instead of traipsing off to foreign lands, Swaraj has been filling her diary with domestic appointments. And instead of talking of matters strategic, she has decided to wade into the most trending topic of our times – how to inculcate the right Indian (Or, is it Hindu?) values . Read the Bhagwad Gita, she prescribes – not just to ordinary citizens, but also to specialists, especially psychiatrists. “Depression is a rising problem. People believe eating chocolates and medicines will cure depression. My remedy is that if we read the Gita and live life as per it, we won’t be depressed. Our psychiatrists and counsellors should read the Gita and advise patients according to it. Every argument will end, every doubt will be removed.” Doubt, you see is bad-certitudes are good and as for chocolates, which are a western import, they only spoil the teeth and add inches to your waist.
There is more. The honorable Minister for External Affairs would like the Gita to be declared the “Rashtriya Granth.” That could translate as “national book” or “national scripture.” As many smart-alecky people on Twitter have pointed out, we already have a “national book” – it’s called the Constitution. And this Constitution tells us that India is a secular country with no place for religion in affairs of the state.
So why and how does she propose to do away with that provision? And pray, why the Gita in the first place?
Speculation is rife over why she has come up with this idea. So far, she has not shown any particular propensity for airing thoughts on Hindutva issues. Is she a closet Sadhvi who has been fooling us all along? Is she reminding the Prime Minister of her existence and currying favour with him and with the RSS? Is she hinting that she is bored in her job and wants to shift to Human Resources Development, where Smriti Irani is zooming ahead with her Sanskrit-in-Schools proposal? Or maybe she is just feeling left out – she looks around her and sees someone declaring the Taj Mahal is a Hindu temple and another MP claiming a nuclear test was conducted in ancient India and she thinks – how do I top this?
Whatever the reasons, she has achieved what she did not manage in the last six months – front-page coverage.
So is this how things are going to be from now on? Ministers, along with managing their respective portfolios, will also be expected to offer ideas to spread tradition, culture and religion? One can see the headlines – “Telecom minister declares phone companies must only use chants as ring tones”; “Finance minister proposes new images of deities for currency notes.”
Sushma Swaraj may just have set off a great new trend. We may need those psychiatrists after all.