The Importance of Being Subramanian Swamy

  • Dr Swamy is very successful at bringing down those he targets, almost always on moral grounds. This tends to strike a certain amount of fear of the man wherever he goes, because of his quirky lone ranger persona
  • Gautam MukherjeeSunday, May 22, 2016 8:25 am IST
    S Swamy (Photo: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)
    S Swamy (Photo: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

    Dr Subramanian Swamy, the most significant recent BJP inductee into the Rajya Sabha, is also an indomitable and energetic 76 now.

    But why was he nominated into Parliament at all? Was it because he successfully dragged Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul to the courts in the National Herald scam? And the RSS, hugely pleased by this, demanded that he be included?

    After all, he doggedly pursued the case through many twists and turns just as a private citizen, and on the strength of his self-taught legal acumen; though he does lean on his wife, who is indeed a very good Supreme Court lawyer.

    The Gandhis, who did their best to have the case quashed, using the duo of Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi, amongst India’s most expensive lawyers, in the end, had to brazen it out, walking into the criminal courts at Patiala House, with all the swagger they could muster.

    They were arrested, surety had to be posted, as in the case of any common criminal, before being released on bail; even as the trial grinds on.

    Or is it because the BJP contingent in the Rajya Sabha, albeit in a minority, was perceived by prime minister Modi, to need a shaking up.

    Modi, who was keenly present at Dr Swamy’s swearing-in, might be thinking that the BJP MPs in the Rajya Sabha lack sufficient fire in the belly, and a necessary unfazed presence under fire.

    How, after all, can the government put the vociferous Congress/ Left/ TMC opposition on the back foot, or preferably on the mat, during the debates?

    That is the question for the less than happy Parliamentary sessions so far. Also, and in addition to Swamy’s new palatability in Nagpur, does the BJP need some fresh blood, not necessarily grown out of the RSS incubator?

    Right on cue, on the very first day after being sworn in, Swamy mounted a full-frontal attack on Congress President Sonia Gandhi, quoting Italian court sources, that suggested that ‘Signora Gandhi’ had personally received millions of euros in bribes in the AgustaWestland helicopter scam.

    Predictably, the sizeable Congress ecosystem reared up in defence of their revered leader, shrieking there was ‘no proof’, but clearly shaken and knocked off-centre.

    Between debut, paranoia, and the outcome, the sizeable Congress-backing media, plus a clutch of loyal Congress Parliamentarians, in both Houses, have been working up quite a lather.

    But Swamy knows what to ignore. He was talking via the live TV cameras in Parliament, and through them, to the nation. They, the public, in turn, soon understood, even as Defence Minister Parikkar joined issue, that SS means to send Sonia Gandhi to jail.

    This, despite noises that persisted that Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi were once very good friends of Dr Swamy. But then, when it comes to corruption, Swamy’s eyes tend to glaze over. He sent his friend Jayalalithaa to jail, did he not? And of course Raja of the DMK, who is not a friend of Swamy’s.

    But, overnight, come the 19th of May, things on the ground, and the national mood, changed. Once again, the Modi government is seen to be on a winning streak, after a bleak 2015 and the first quarter of 2016.

    Now, it is highly doubtful that Dr Swamy’s attackers, at least in the media, will have the stomach for taking him on with quite the same vehemence. They realise now that Congress is electorally finished, and cannot come back to power in 2019. The fight has been knocked out of them, with many despairing at the rout of a ‘viable opposition’.

    This, after the latest election results point towards the terminal decline, and imminent demise of the Congress Party.

    Besides, Dr Swamy, disparage him as you might, is no mean quantity. Former Prime Minister Man mohan Singh credits Swamy—an econmics PhD from Harvard with Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson as his guide, and a family penchant for mathematics—with producing, in 1991, the blueprint for liberalisation of the Indian economy. Swamy apparently did this while he was Union Commerce & Industry minister with additional charge of Law, in the short-lived Chandra Shekhar administration.

    Manmohan Singh, coming in as Finance Minister shortly thereafter, in the P.V. Narasimha Rao administration, acknowledged that he drew upon Swamy’s documented ideas when he implemented many of the features that dismantled the licence-permit Raj, and set India on a relatively high-growth path.

    It has been 25 years since, and second-generation structural reforms, such as GST and the Bankruptcy Code, are only now beginning to see the light of day.

    Meanwhile, the Congress/ Left ecosystem, built up over decades of rule, is feeling suddenly orphaned - Congress, admit the most trenchant amongst them, is in terminal decline, perhaps headed towards oblivion.

    Subramanian Swamy’s acceptability may grow if he is seen with less inherent bias. He has been a man of many parts. He has taught at Harvard, in IIT Delhi, worked in the erstwhile Planning Commission, been a multiple-term MP, a minister, as well as an early and abiding advocate of economic liberalisation.

    Dr Swamy flies in the face of the prevalent norm, often taking positions contrary to his travelling companions, being a good family man, finding the equanimity to acknowledge the inner self, and brokering the opening of the Kailash-Mansaovar route via Tibet with the Chinese, way back in 1981.

    But now that the political tide has turned, along with the mood of the nation, Dr Swamy’s pronouncements may have greater resonance outside the core support group.

    But for the moment, he intends to keep the Gandhis and the Chidambarams under pressure for corruption. It could well be that his attack on Raghuram Rajan is not all that serious. He might be doing it to harbinger a desired change anyway or simply to prevent Rajan from growing even fuller of himself, complacent, and keen on generating a media soundbyte every day.

    As the next set of assembly elections loom though 2017 and 2018, it is enough to paint the Congress leadership into a corner and keep the evidentiary pot boiling. Actual prosecution might backfire politically, and will probably be put off for as long as possible. Besides, by the time the judicial process reaches somewhere near conclusion, it might already be close to 2019.

    It is clear now that BJP is growing its footprint once again, and beyond the ‘cow belt’. The win in Assam is as exciting as when the lotus first bloomed in Karnataka.

    Ironically, now Karnataka is the only large state that is still under Congress rule, despite the bad press its Chief Minister and family have been getting. But it too will likely slip away, also to BJP, in the elections coming up.

    Congress currently runs just seven out of 29 states of the Union. Apart from sizeable Karnataka, the rest are all small hill states in the North and North East. Together, they account for just 6-7% of the population, of which Karnataka alone accounts for about 5%.

    BJP, in contrast, rules 16 states out of the 29, accounting for over 45% of the population.

    Down the road, with a Congress that has lost both its heft and credibility, the other regional parties are unlikely to follow its lead in Parliament.

    Present developments also have major implications on the kind of anti-NDA front that can be formed in 2019.

    Dr Swamy is very successful at bringing down those he targets, almost always on moral grounds. This tends to strike a certain amount of fear of the man wherever he goes, because of his quirky lone ranger persona.

    But apart from the shock of recognition, sometimes of our own flaws, when Dr Swamy cuts into issues, he epitomises and points out what people of energy and calibre can always achieve.

    Modi may or may not break his own age-limit rule of thumb, to give Dr Swamy an opportunity to run the Finance Ministry in place of a lacklustre Jaitley. The Cabinet reshuffle is already in the works reportedly, part of it with an eye to the UP elections. Will it go far enough?

    Even if nothing more happens in this round of being in Parliament, and Swamy’s role is confined to cutting through the opposition strategies, turning them ineffectual, he will have fulfilled his purpose.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.


    Swarajya Magazine Cover Image