There was a time to migrate to London, but now it is time to return home, Sushma Swaraj declared as the external affairs minister to much applause from a packed audience at the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in London in October 2014.
It was her first and only visit to London as the external affairs minister, but she intervened often in consular issues whenever Indians in the UK approached her through twitter. Like several Indian leaders, she has a network of friends and followers in the UK, now mourning her passing away on Tuesday aged 67.
Swaraj’s connect with the diaspora was evident during her address to the audience. After reading out a formal statement in English, she switched to Hindi: “Thodasa Hindi me ho jaye? Iske bina na apko achcha lagega, na mujhe poora lagega” (How about some Hindi now? Without this, neither you nor I will be happy).
As the then foreign secretary Philip Hammond looked on in some amusement, Swaraj drew repeated applause by appealing to the head and heart of the diaspora, recalling the BJP’s win in the 2014 elections and the plans its government had.
“I have come to invite you. There was a time when you thought of leaving for London. I have come to tell you that now is the time to return to India”, she said, setting out ‘big’ opportunities in India that would be available under the Narendra Modi government.
Her visit included handing over Dadabhai Naoroji Awards instituted by the coalition government under Prime Minister David Cameron (2010-2015). The awards were led by the then deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, whose party, Liberal Democrats, had fielded Naoroji successfully in 1892.
The three awardees hailed by Swaraj and Clegg in the 2014 event in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were actor Madhav Sharma, educationist Asha Khemka and Patricia Hewitt, the then chair of the Indo-British Trade Council.
As several of her friends and followers mourned her passing away, councillor Pranav Bhanot said: “At my lunch with Swaraj last year, she spoke privately of her optimism towards future relations between the UK and India and also her professional and personal admiration towards a number of British politicians across the political spectrum including the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson”.