gfiles magazine

July 17, 2011

With malice towards all

Despite his venom, the erudite doctor has been a crusader against corruption and a foreign policy helmsman

IN political circles, Subramanian Swamy – intellectual, economist, teacher and political maverick – sends a chill up the spines of even the high and mighty. His adversaries have reason to be extremely guarded. His name has become synonymous with a sustained crusade against corruption and the plunderers of national wealth. Perhaps there is none more suitable than the five-time MP from Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh and his home state, Tamil Nadu, for writing a treatise on how to make enemies and antagonize people.
Yet, the septuagenarian Swamy, a former Union minister who is president of the Janata Party and professor of economics at Harvard University, is often said to be a personification of paradox. The Tam Bam (Delhi politics’ moniker for Tamil Brahmins) is intriguing, acerbic and startling in his comments. He fires straight from the hip. And he has an elephantine memory, especially for scribes who pen uncomplimentary articles.
Unlike the majority of those in the political spectrum who steer clear of getting enmeshed in controversy, he has not shied away from taking up public causes and knocking at court doors for redressal. He has an instinct for fighting injustice. An innate rebel, Swamy has never studied law but likes to argue cases himself. He instinctively backs the underdog and is fearless in taking on the powerful, more so if they are in the saddle. It is, therefore, unsurprising that he has been on a sustained campaign against Congress president and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in the 2G scam.
Swamy alleged that two of Sonia’s sisters received kickbacks and sought the PM’s permission to prosecute the NAC Chairperson in a number of graft cases.

In April, Swamy alleged that two of Sonia’s sisters received kickbacks and sought the PM’s permission to prosecute the NAC Chairperson in a number of graft cases under Sections 11 and 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. A month later, he repeated the allegations. Characteristically, he lists corruption charges against important leaders before scribes with a knowing grin, implying that he knows full well that they will not be able to publish them.
He has been spearheading the 2G corruption probe for long, writing to the Prime Minister in November 2008 and following it up with four more letters seeking sanction to prosecute former Communications Minister A Raja. When there was no response from the Prime Minister’s office, he went to the Supreme Court. On November 27, 2010, he announced he was filing a criminal case against Raja in the Special Court for corruption cases with regard to charges of irregularities in the 2G Spectrum allocation. He also spoke of naming other beneficiaries in the scam under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The Supreme Court took Swamy’s complaints on record. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the 2G scam caused the exchequer a loss of Rs 176,379 crore. But Swamy disputed the CAG’s methodology and said the amount would be about Rs 60,000 crore. He suggested the Centre reauction the 2G Spectrum licences after the Supreme Court issued notice to the Union government and the 11 firms involved.
The BJP did speak about the 2G affair but did nothing about it. Swamy felt he should move as it was a case of monumental corruption. And what followed is a historic development in independent India.
Another prominent aspect of his career has been his blow hot, blow cold relationship with AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. In the early 1990s, he ran a campaign to oust her from chief ministership. In June 1997 he put it behind him and struck an alliance with her, which culminated in his influencing her to send the BJP government packing. But the manoeuvre cost her dearly, and she distanced herself from him in July 1999. Once again, he became her sworn enemy.
The Tam Bam (a moniker for Tamil Brahmins) is intriguing, acerbic and startling in his comments. He fires from the hip. And he has an elephantine memory.

There was yet another instance of a volte face when he helped Jayalalithaa to fight corruption cases against her. Now he has made her order registration of a criminal case against former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on allotment of plots beyond the CM’s discretionary quota.
As for other political friends, despite giving the impression of being anti-Congress, it is no secret that he respects and likes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He also supported Rajiv Gandhi when the latter’s popularity ratings as Prime Minister plummeted and enjoyed a good equation with PV Narasimha Rao when he was PM as well. He acknowledges Manmohan’s selection of him as a lecturer for the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi despite stiff resistance from the Left parties and rues the fact that the Left ultimately succeeded in ousting him from the post.
A maverick to beat all mavericks
BORN on September 15, 1939, Subramanian Swamy earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard University in 1964. Those in awe of him describe him as a political leader with a difference. He published his first book in 1971, presenting an alternative economic strategy for the country. He has jointly authored papers with Nobel Laureate Paul A Samuelson on the Theory of Index Numbers. Swamy was greatly influenced by Jayaprakash Narayan. His return to India was influenced by a chance meeting with JP, who spent three days with him at Harvard. He began his political career as a member of the Jana Sangh in 1973. Four years later, his party merged with the Janata Party. In 1979 and 1980, when the Janata Party split twice, Swamy became one of the few founding leaders who remained with the original party in the face of desertions, risking political exile. He has been in politics for nearly four decades, entering Parliament through the Rajya Sabha from UP the first time in 1974. In 1977, he made his debut in the Lok Sabha, representing North-East Bombay for two consecutive terms. He shot into prominence during the Emergency in 1976. Despite being Most Wanted by the police, he escaped abroad to organize overseas Indians against the authoritarian rule back home. In August that year he returned undetected and made a dramatic appearance in Parliament to make a “point of order”. He slipped out of the country again, demonstrating that the security system in even the authoritarian regime could be breached with impunity. Since 1990, he has been president of the Janata Party. He has also proved his administrative abilities, overseeing the Ministries of Commerce, and Law and Justice. He simplified trade procedures and formulated a new export strategy which became the forerunner of the trade reform adopted subsequently. In 1994, he was appointed by then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao as Chairman, Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade, with Cabinet Minister rank.

If he believes in Hindutva, it is not the hardcore variety pursued by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) – which he calls anti-national and whose dissembling he seeks in the nation’s interest.
Swamy has also played a noteworthy role in reorienting India’s policy towards China from hostility to cordiality. He met Deng Xiaoping and was instrumental in persuading Beijing to allow Indians to travel to Mansarovar in Tibet. In 1982, he became the first Indian political leader to make a publicised visit to Israel where he met Yitzhak Rabin and then Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He took up the cause of having diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. It bore fruit in 1992, when India and Israel opened embassies in each other’s countries.
A prominent aspect of his career has been his blow hot, blow cold relationship with Jayalalithaa. In the 1990s, he ran a campaign to oust her from chief ministership.

IN 1978, Swamy was a member of the Group of Eminent Persons called to Geneva to prepare a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on Economic Co-operation between Developing Countries. Early in his career, in 1963, he had served for a few months at the United Nations Headquarters in New York as Assistant Economic Affairs Officer.
Even though politicians, across the spectrum, are wary of Swamy, they are quick to acknowledge that he is scholarly, sharp and a man with a purpose in life even if it means bashing one and all. Jurist Ram Jethmalani remarked last year that Swamy’s life has been one of character assassination, malicious mendacity, and sordid blackmail of anyone who happened to cross his path. Nobody had been able to deflect him from his criminal course of conduct, said Jethmalani, because few have the “inclination to take on the vicious viper”. To make mean attacks on those who, in good faith, had helped him in life had been Swamy’s speciality and behind all this evil was the frustration of not becoming Prime Minister, added Jethmalani. Swamy remains unfazed.

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