You are on page 1of 12

Reporting & Essays Profile The Outlier The inscrutable politics of Subramanian Swamy By SAMANTH SUBRAMANIAN Published :1 May 2012

Text Size Print this page Email this page Add to favourites Share with friends Single page NISHANT SHUKLA FOR THE CARAVAN ONE T O SEE SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY in his natural habitat is emphatically not to se e him thus: in the heart of a throng of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker s, on a January morning, in the town of Dhar, in Madhya Pradesh. Mere minutes af ter Swamy, the president and, frankly, the totality of the Janata Party, hopped out of an SUV, he was swallowed by the crowd. Somewhere within its crevices, he was inserted into a massive garland, and a vivid red tilak was smeared across his fo rehead like an angry wound. Then he reappeared atop a jalopy that had been conve rted, with the judicious aid of a silvered backboard, silvered side panels and a cloth-covered bench, into a motorised chariot. The crowd disciplined itself int o a column and began to trickle through the streets of Dhar. A small boy sat sid eways next to the driver of the chariot and gaped unceasingly at Swamy. Even in late January, Dhar had grown decidedly hot by 10 am, and Swamy looked uncomforta ble and hassled. Late the previous night, standing near a baggage carousel at the Mumbai airport, Swamy had explained to me why we were headed to Dhar. A small delegation from t he town had visited him in Delhi in early 2010 to ask if he would take up the ca se of the absent Vagdevi Saraswati, a striking 11th-century stone idol that had been transported, just over 100 years ago, from a Dhar temple to the British Mus eum in London. The idol used to occupy a temple within the Bhojashala, a school built by Bhoj, king of Malwa, around the year 1034 AD. I got so busy with the 2G case, but these guys didn t let me forget about it, Swamy said. And every Basant Pan chami, they have this big rally in Dhar, so that s where we re going. I m kind of a ch ief guest there. The Basant Panchami rally every spring has, for a couple of decades now, thrumme d with communal tension. On the grounds of the Bhojashala is a dargah, also seve ral centuries old, one of its green-and-white walls pressing up against the sand stone perimeter of the ancient school. The local police and the Madhya Pradesh g overnment have tried, with varying degrees of sincerity and opportunism, to regu late the entry of Hindu and Muslim pilgrims into this complex; at the moment, Hi ndus pray on Tuesdays and on Basant Panchami, while Muslims pray on Fridays. The RSS has demanded, through repeated agitations, that the Bhojashala remain perma nently open to Hindus and, implicitly, closed to Muslims. There have been lathi cha rges, and people have been injured and even died. You ll probably see more police than public there, Sanjay Sisodia, a Dhar journalist who runs a slim and extraord inarily colourful local weekly, told me before the rally. In 2006, Friday and Ba sant Panchami fell on the same day; Dhar s Muslims were supposed to pray until 1 p m, but the police could not hold back the swelling sea of Hindu worshippers, and

Swamy has managed to find for himself an angle that relies on his clinical knowledge of legal and bureaucratic procedure. R. He maintained also that the British Museum s charter allowed it to r eturn objects of religious significance if you re not bringing it back to put into your own museum . trumpets and drums.the lathis had to be broken out. I am going to Britain to bring the idol back. Swamy s chariot was preceded by another. bearing an enormou s portrait of the Vagdevi. It seemed to be an act of cosmic wryness that Swamy had been pulled into the orb it of the legacy of Bhoj. In practice. At the Mumbai airport. I ve never known a politician to score as many self-goals as him. they have been rendered inert by a process that says much about S wamy. chugging through the tight streets. The Janata Party. seve ral of which have survived to the present day. Subramanian Swamy s Janata Party was inducted into the NDA in March of this year some say primarily because of Swamy s reputation as an anti-corruption cru sader. harrying him from either side. for less tha n a year. as seems almost mandatory with such events . however. The parallels of this life with Swamy s are difficult to miss. in 1990-91. A Nataraja bronze had been scheduled for auction in London. In 2013.V. however disused. A remarkable concatenation of circumstances has now given Swamy a hotter nationa . almost extravagant . chemistry. has withered into a mere vehicle for Swamy s prickliness and ebullience. and on the odd corner. as is the most nota ble difference: Swamy. raised one slogan repeatedly: Bhoj ashala hamari hai The Bhojashala is ours. Swa my s qualifications for politics and policymaking are striking. If I build it. as is his wont. the Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar told me. Swamy told me. There were. with the bumptiousness he wears almost as a sec ond skin. Nevertheless. idling Rapid Action Force v ans exhaled sharp bursts of exhaust fumes. I found no such reference in the British Museum Act of 1963. The House of Lords surprisingly up held our view. t heir heads snugly hugged by saffron bandannas. I saw its residents peering d own from balconies or sitting on the stoops of their shops. flanked by other NDA leaders at a recent meeting in New Delhi. a clump of young men. he died. But Swamy s story speaks also to the true natu re of the ascent to Indian political power. civil engineering. Sisodia observed gloomily. bought off a farmer who found it in a disused temple. inept at buildin g political alliances. B hoj was known as a scholar of enviable talents. and much of his life was spent campaigning against foes w ho had once been partners. Antsy policemen l ined either side of the road. third from left. it is said. a temple is always a temple. once a grand alliance of India s anti-Congress opposition. Indian authorities argued that.Within this charged and emotional space. in an active political career that stretches back nearly four decades. with his doctorate in economics from Harvard and his deep knowledge of the law. their earsplitting notes of forced cheer barely able to ma sk the town s sour sense of worry. Basant Pan chami would again land on a Friday. under Hindu law. Swamy had told me. I am just the trustee. Sanskrit grammar. shipbuilding and law. MOORTHY / THE HINDU ARCHIVES LK Advani. Leading the procession. he wrote treatises 84 in all on medi cine. When the pr ocession entered the edges of Dhar s Muslim quarter. which resembles not so much a long l adder as a greased pole. who ruled Malwa for nearly half of the 11th century. the Act stoutl y emphasises its reluctance to return artefacts to the country of their origin. like sighs of impatience. At the parade in Dhar. in fact. Swamy had narrated to me the det ails of a case from his brief tenure as Union minister for commerce and law. on a battlefield trapped between two enemies. their faces carefull y and stoically composed. He was. On paper. has only ever occupied one ministerial post. whi ch governs the administration of the museum s possessions. God is t he owner.

in its conception of co rruption. he tweeted recently. viti ated moment. equally. in another of Swamy s snarky labels. has given him. he views his career much as a boxer would. not because it can deliver vast pools of votes which it can t but because it delivers Swamy as an individual. between the possible and the outlandish. TWO N THE NARRATIVE OF HIS LIFE. one of whom led the pugnacious forces of Thirumalai Nayak. and with the habits of a hectoring public persona. Swamy s declamations about the sinister workings of the Congress party and about the nexus between business and politics have so unded like fantastical conspiracies. thumping loudly on the glass and hollering to be let in . but they have also been dismayed by his stated allegiance to the Hindu right and his views on Muslims. He is intelligent and incorruptible descriptions almost reflexively assign ed to him even by his most bitter critics and yet.l profile than he has enjoyed at any time since the mid-1970s. are born today as Congis [Congress] tweeples. indeed. Those mad people who hanged Galileo for telling what Hindus knew for several millennia. ) He has repeatedly found allies in people whom he has previously attacked without relent common enou gh in politics. and even as the draughtsman of the blueprint for Manmohan Singh s economic reforms in 1991. as he likes to relate it. he may have even helped make this moment. his broadsides seem to be finding more purchase in the minds of a public that no longer knows how much it can trust it s leaders. He compels himself. which explains his billing as headliner in the rally at Dhar. His Janata Party wa s inducted into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in March. for instance. deposed A Raja as teleco mmunications minister and may yet yank down P Chidambaram from the top of the ho me ministry. At Harvard. as Raúl Vinci ). in a country that yearns consta ntly for intelligent and incorruptible politicians. were a long line of fighting Bra hmins . and that cannot figure out the dividing line. Swamy has only ever been the man outside the window. with great fanfare and after nearly 30 years. Swamy fought his way to the top of his class in high sch ool and at New Delhi s Hindu College. Subramanian Swamy was born to be a fighter. he fought at least one important economic t I . and he isn t entirely incorrect. His ancestors. bundled with his newfound and very valuable cachet as anti-corruption crusader. with the RSS. nimbly avoiding arrest during Indira Gandhi s Emergency. His tireless enthusiasm for filing cases against corruption has. despite his roots in the Ne w Delhi establishment. But this reputation has had to coexist with his fondness for airing theories that even his friends call kooky. ( my s Twitter feed is a baroque and frenetic mash-up of all these traits. He possesses a reputation as an intellectual as an early and credentialled advoca te of economic liberalisation. allied permanently to no party and answering to no one but himself. or fool (or. as a serie s of memorable bouts. the improbable status of an outsider. But in this era of the Niira Radia tapes an d the scandal-plagued Central government. Swamy s political career is rife with contradictions. when he became fa mous as a sort of homegrown Simon Templar. to always refer to the Congress party president using her Italian surname Sonia Màino and e ven in private conversations he will refer with the straightest of faces to Rahu l Gandhi as buddhu . Swamy s long tenure in the wilderness. a senior Bharat iya Janata Party (BJP) member pointed out to me. Some of his admirers have be en drawn to his championing of economic liberalisation. but surprising for somebody often called inflexible and uncompro mising. and he fought later with PC Mahalanobis. He has reunited. he told me. He fought with his principal in school. in a scam involvin g the misallocation of spectrum for 2G mobile services. the ruler of Ma durai in the mid-1600s. Over the years. in a bizarre op-ed in DNA last summer. Swamy is not bashful about declaring himself to be the man of this cynical. in other ways. his director at the Indian Statistical Inst itute (ISI) in Calcutta. m ost infamously. Swamy suggested that Indi a s Muslims not be permitted to vote unless they acknowledge their Hindu ancestry. the moment seems also to have been made es pecially for him.

he has always been alone in the ring. the tendency to talk about his parents as if they were ideologies first and human beings second. the sociolo gist MN Panini. the most bruising fight of them all. was a devout Hindu. When I interjected. a mathematics professor. he was also an active member of the Congress. He was basically a Marxist. On e good piece of advice my father gave me: he said. retiring as director of the Central Statistical Inst itute. as well as her profound influence on him. In Swamy s eyes. Subramanian. Sitaraman Subramanian worked in the Indian Statistical Service. All the ministers used to come home . You do mathematics first. Soon after Swamy s birth in 1939. At Harvard. My father was v ery left. The Madras troops were sent in. because th ey were neutral. You can use it to express whatever you want. But my father didn t believe in all of this. Subramanian told me. Swamy said. SUDERSHAN / THE HINDU ARCHIVES Swamy addressing reporters on 2 February outside the Supreme Court after the ann ouncement of the verdict on the 2G case. C Rajagopalachari and S Satyamurti. because even though he was a civil servant. Some of the macabre consequences of Partition unfurled on the street right outsi de the family s government-allotted house. Swamy s economic papers are concise. Then. Muslim mobs chasing Hindus. so let s leave it at that. in which capacity he was a statistical adviser to the Government of India . to the dismay of his parents and the bemusement of the priests Subramanian grimaced: He has given you a version. but the regiment was shooting everybody because they couldn t tel l one from the other. that was what distinguished me from everybody else. with no coaches or seconds or water-bottle-squeezers or brow -moppers in his corner. Panini s . when I pressed him to explain why he had been anti-communist from a very e arly age . his father Sitaraman. I took mathematics. The way economics is taught in India. a nuclear strategist formerly with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Swamy s efforts in filing cases against c orruption related to the 2G scam led to the dismissal and prosecution of former telecom minister A Raja. a typical paper such as Consistency of Fish er s Tests from the July 1965 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Econometrica. said that their mother was so ritualist ic and irrational about her beliefs that my father used to make fun of her. Mathematics is poetry.Swamy s mother Padmavati. and that had to do with hav ing brought up her children near Turkman Gate in Delhi when the Partition riots were happening. and his economics would never have suited my brother. V. and then the Sikhs coming in from Pakistan and reversing it. remembered Swamy once telling him. Swamy recalled. I remember dead bodies. it has always only been his wits against the world. She had no compunction in admitting her hatred for Muslims. remarking that Swamy had told me a different story of walking away in the middle of his thread ceremony. So at Hindu College. m oved their family from Madras to New Delhi. close to its foremost leaders: K Kamaraj. Swamy cited his mother s deep faith and its incompatibility with the comm unist creed. He never put the [Brahminical] sacred thread on h is sons. Swamy shares with his brother RR Subramanian. on the holes in one of the four most important neoclassical microeconomic theories is so dense with mathematics that it is almost more symbols than words. And they would talk economics all the time. and they freque ntly bristled with data and equations. you won t get very far. because mathematics at that time was just infecting economics. an old friend. he was known as a Congress person. It s language. trucks of bodies being taken away. and that stood me in great stead.heory of the time which held that the statist model of development was effective ly hauling China and India out of poverty. on the other hand. who professe d to being far more in his father s mould. What Swamy did have in common with his father was an aptitude for mathematics. Swamy said. I saw the looting of Connaught Place with my own eyes. Then he returned to India and joined politics.

Swamy has sugge sted the abolition of income tax to spur savings and investment. Instead. studying for a master s degree in statistics. Relations between him and his daughters a re warm. At the ISI in Calcutta. Swamy readily admits. Then. refused to be inter viewed for this article. saying. even more warmly. I t s a typical South Indian mentality. Swamy showed how a statistical analysis method. a Parsi. the chief designer of the sta tistical methodologies used by Jawaharlal Nehru to plan his economy. ) He bou . which Mahalanobis claimed to have inve nted. Often. his two daughters Gitanjali Swamy. Now that is the Harvard I knew . He found mentors in Simon Kuznets at Harvard. the happiest of his life. becoming an assistant professor in economics in July 1966. Everybody was telling me: Your career is over. The Econometrica referee for this paper. that he mailed off to Econometrica in 1963 in an envelope made out of a brown-paper bag. Swamy said. He met his future wife Roxna. he added a little morosely: I don t know if it is the same Harvard today. as the archpriest of Swamy s econo mic faith. Swamy was not nearly so scathing. Those days. that was the great thing: Bhila i Steel Plant. in one of our c onversations. Swamy decided to embrace his reputation already acquired. the deputy foreign editor at CNN-IBN did not respond to requests for comments. Harvard admitted h im with a full Rockefeller scholarship. and therefore it doesn t matter if he gets an MA or not. a Supreme Court advocate. Notes on Fractile Graphical Analysis . and Suhasini Haider. Swamy was convinced tha t Mahalanobis was targeting him for being his father s son. who was fascinated by developing economies. echoing the very libertarians Samuelson was wary of. According to Swamy. when she was a doctoral student in mathematics at Harvard. Armed even then with his fealty to the free market. We adm itted him on the basis of his demonstrated capacity for research. he referred to Milton Friedman. but not yet bur nished as a rebel.aid. Pani ni told me that Swamy had recently declared to him: I m not pro-American I am America n. and Swamy told me that. Mahalanobis and my fath er were dead opposed to each other There was bitterness between them. Swamy sa id. Swam y found it easy to be contemptuous of Mahalanobis. mat hematically rigorous but also less trusting than Swamy of the market s innate wisd oms. You better go become an apprentice at the Bhilai Steel Plant. he angrily wrote to Harva rd predicting that Swamy would fail his Master s. He stated gently that Mahalanobis s claim of having invented a new m ethod was not quite correct . (Page 2 of 5) His years in Boston were. In a paper. Mahalanobis tried to persuade him to withdraw his paper. he said. Swamy s talent for mathematics was responsible for placing him on the warpath agai nst Mahalanobis. literally destroyed Mahalanobis. But in the paper itself. when that failed. The article. was only a differentiated form of an older equation. Harvard wrote back. the Amsterdam-born American economist H endrik S Houthakker. but Suhasini won t even read pieces about me on air. Swamy completed his PhD in two-and-a-half years and then swarmed up the academic ladder. He also thinks anybody who doesn t know mathematics is not worth talking to. saying that she had been misquoted liberally by a weekl y newsmagazine. and Paul Samuelson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. a private equity investment pro fessional in the US. thinking of Harvard s decision to drop him as a Summer School instructor fo llowing the outcry over his DNA op-ed. on the basis of this article alone. So me of his Tamil professors would tell him that they were under pressure to grade h im poorly. happened also to be serving on Harvard s admissions committee . he called Mahalanobis s approach refre shingly new . Swamy told me. (Roxna. before he tu rned 27. and thence for securing him an admission into Harvard s doctoral programme in economics. who argued for free markets and fo r minimal government intervention in the economy.

In 1968. to occupy a new chair on C hinese studies. then a reporter for The Harvard Crimson. which wou ld prod him even further into anger. convincing way. At the end of the term.5 per cent. When Swamy returned to take up his seat at the DSE. the left had become a more imp ortant player in India s power structure. While S wamy had been away. describing the betra yal of academic independence by intellectuals snuggling up to the state. she said. In the classroom. He spent three summer months teaching at De lhi University in 1968. Narayan. and n ow the national correspondent for The Atlantic. standi ng next to Fallows on the sidewalk. and Swamy. Swamy. while calling Swamy s me thods technically sophisticated . The cl ass was called Economic Development in India and East Asia . and a reviewer in The Journal of Asian Studies. They were growing at 3. the Gandhian activist. The Stanford professor of economics John Gu rley. he moved back to New Delhi. during the latter s visit to Harvard. he firmly believed. who went on t o become a caretaker finance minister of Pakistan. then head of the Delhi School of Economics (DSE). he f ound the offer rescinded. The one great tragedy of Swamy s Harvard life occurred early one January morning i n 1968. returning to Harvard with a written offer from Amartya S en. Talking about the events of those years always gives Swamy cause to deploy one o f his most well-worn phrases: the French trahison des clercs . told me that Swamy was really enthusiastic . he would be called an Indian chauvinist. the Congress party had split. titled Economic Growth in China and India. who a sked that her name be withheld. the firemen failed to quench the blaze. looked with distaste upon Swamy s fr ee-market proclivities.ght a car. Shahid Javed Burki. [even though] India was an open society . and once he could read a cademic material and data sources in that language. Fallows said in a 1996 commencement speech a t Northwestern University. Swamy met Jayaprakash Narayan. and he was very popular. Swamy said. which he loved to drive. James Fallows. He d tell lots of stories about his experiences wit h government. Swamy had already started to get annoyed by peop le running India down. 1952-1970 and published in 1973. in The Journal of Economic History. looked more distraught than interested to see the building burn down . and he was always very generous with his time. he still has A . same as India. Panini recalls hearing Swamy deliver lectures at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi in the ear ly 1970s: He was brilliant. in the throes of his heated defences of India. he hosted a dinner at t he Bombay Club. Swamy seems to have been uniformly impressive. He was very well spoken of. Fallows reported that Swamy lost irreplac eable notes from research in Japan and Hong Kong . Most professors don t do things like that for u ndergraduates. questioned Swamy s deft manipulations of daft data . The book. could deliver that sort of galloping progress. In the Crimson. said Burki. he wrote a book arguing that all this talk of China growing at seven or eight per cent was all bakwaas (nonse nse). though. He has a very neat and sharp mind. One of his fo rmer teaching assistants during his summer gig at Harvard a few years ago. who had taken Swamy s mathematical economics class in 1967 and become fast friends with his professor. By that time. In weather that was so cold that water froze as s oon as it came out of the firehoses . told Swamy that India needed youn g people like him. The very next year. and the new Delhi University vice chance llor KN Raj. in Harvard Square. ha d an anecdotal teaching style. No state-driven economy. Somewhere among his papers. and a capacity to analyse things and put them across in a systematic. wrote that he had missed the main strengths and we aknesses of [India and China s] great development efforts . as well as others in government. He learnt Mandarin. told me that Swamy was an extremely good teach er. He was definitely t he smartest person in that room. who was on the cusp of moving back into politics fro m his activist s life in the Sarvodaya movement. earned tepid academic reviews. when a faulty boiler sparked a fire that gutted the building holding muc h of his research. remembered the fire as the event that gave him his first story.

however. but he is hardly an orator to rouse the masses. Swamy has won only one election in the past 30 ye ars in 1998. it will be a great combination. he quoted at them the idol s accession number in the British Museum catalogue. You know. and bit the fingers of his right hand in slow sequence. he checked his BlackBerry. You can teach mathematical economics as well as China. Swamy s own 40-minute speech was articulate enough. saying. After the meeting. and for a brief. His Hindi is faultless but formal. he was hurried into the temple through a dense. in the early 19 80s. and Swamy because of his capability. I was told by the vice chancell or of Delhi University that the chair did not go Swamy s way. he meandered into a spiel on genetics and DNA testin g. his application failed to prevail. SAMANTH SUBRAMANIAN FOR THE CARAVAN Swamy atop a silver chariot in Dhar. I was not in the selection committe e for the chair. fr enzied 20 minutes. Amartya Sen told me that the entire sequence of events postulated by Swamy is imagined . Swamy had no job and no prospects. Swamy s chariot halted outside the Bhojashala. Swamy never showed me Sen s letter. In the competition for the app ointment. and his hosts led him to a small maidan where a couple hundred people had been assembled under a blue-and-pink tent. his fury having transmuted over the decades into a cutting coldness. Not yet 30. was completely unrelated to Swamy. looked into the distance. Then Swamy strode back out . having first caught a 5 a . but Sonia-ji and Rahul-ji? But Swamy also frequen tly talks over the collective head of his audience. We had driven for two hours from Indore to reach Dhar. so I stood on a stone plinth outside and trie d in vain to peer over the shoulders of the faithful. had picked two winners. he sneered to me. trying to explain how the distinction between Aryan and Dravidian had been cre ated for political capital. a man appointed to Parliament. when J Jayalalithaa threw the formidable hulk of the All India Anna D ravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) behind the Janata Party in Madurai. To the Basant Panchami crowd .martya Sen s letter. later. patting the oiled backs of the wrestlers and posing for photographs. but I did try to make sure that Swamy s case should receive a goo d hearing from the committee. and I am dusting your gaddi (seat) for you those we re the very words he used. when he was assuring the crowd that he would retrieve their Vagdevi id ol. Delhi University s decision to create a chair in Chinese stu dies. after all. with a young wife and a newborn daughter. and there was no reaso n yet why Swamy wouldn t help Busybee posthumously hit the trifecta. one sta ple runs: What is 2G. Swamy is. the rally s organisers asked him to guest-referee a wrestling match. Busybee. He carries a stock quiver o f smart-aleck barbs. Jagdish Shetty. I didn t make it into the shrine. where he told crowds in January he would re trieve their missing idol from the British Museum. sweating crow d. in an India that seemed to have arrayed the forces of her est ablishment against him. which he game ly did. as RR Subramanian told me. Shetty seemed to be suggesting. no campaigner: He s always a Rajya Sabha man. Busybee Contractor wrote a column predicting three future Indian prime mini sters: Rajiv Gandhi because of his family. as local RSS o fficials rose to speak. Indian intellectuals are the worst. the Janata Party s general secretary and Swamy s r ight hand. But over email.After Swamy ended his speech. THREE A T DHAR. Sen said. They can t stand up for anything. astute journalist that he was . Swamy perceived treachery and a sort of ideological discrimination as the nucleu s of this setback. Swamy sat on the dais and. Sta nding next to me. several of them directed towards the Gandhi family. Atal Bihari Vajpayee because of his p arty. looked on with almost doting pride and said.

Swamy s brother describes him as almost Gandhian in his rigid ity. by an energy that is tiring even to cont emplate. for 25 minutes. He sleeps. a close friend of Swamy and a former Times of India editor. and he is rarel y at rest. to come rouse some swayamsevaks or provoke some young minds or po ntificate at some club meeting or deliver some anti-corruption seminar. he is awake at 4 am for a spell of yoga. ate two poor is and nothing more. told me. (Page 3 of 5) In conversation and in repose. who had spoken at the rally. Nalapat wrote. the rest of us fell upon our food. Maybe the confidence of the public has grown that I mean what I say and that I say what I mean. In some of his habits. his brother Subramanian said. Subramanian re membered learning the phrase black sheep in school. Every morning. Now you can t even find stan ding room in a Subramanian Swamy press conference. You called me the b lack sheep of the family. on flights. however trivial. and casually aiming it at Swamy during a pillow fight. resumed precis ely where he had left off. to decimate you. I never saw Swamy in any attire other than a white kurta-pajama. He ea ts so sparingly that it can be cause for alarm. Gopinath. Then he woke up and. (Thus dressed. inordinately sensitive. he was scheduled to fly back to Mumbai. he fell in to deep slumber. Otherwise. he ll say. Swamy. it would only be a couple of ri ff-raff journalists coming in to ask silly questions. when we were rattling along on a truly dreadful stretch of road. I was a boy of what? eight or nine years? Panini described S wamy as a man who would go all out after you. I had to call the club and tell them that he was a former minister and that he wanted to come in his national dress. his chin slumped into his neck. The previous day. he wil l pilfer a nap out of his afternoon s schedule. Swamy refused. Even today. It was as if a switch had been flipped. Swamy has rarely stayed in a single place longer than two da ys. so his waistcoat has the disconcerting tendency to chirru p or beep softly every few minutes. a veteran journalist with The Statesman in Chenna i and an old friend of Swamy s. Swamy had bee n at home in New Delhi. when Chidambaram was finance minister. his heavy-lidded eyes revealing little of his thoughts. Swamy went on repeating it. Subrama nian told me. would reliably go. because of our old relationship. the day before that. So Swamy borrowed a shawl and put that on. he interrupted himself to say. and who had been hustled and jostled and hugged and fêted. For the past year. after only a momentary pause. but more reliably. Once. h . Swamy had been in Chennai. when Swamy was in Washingto n. at least in any Newtonian sense. suggested in a Sunday Guardian column last Novem ber that Swamy s ruthless legal pursuit of P Chidambaram is really part of settlin g an old score. not woken even by the most lunar of potholes. Burki invited him to dinner at the Cosmos Club and told him. from many p arts of India. Swamy is sustained. he secretes away his three mobile phon es in various pockets. if he can. Swamy said. I and another journalist. Okay. until he goes to bed at 10 pm. DC. an d he keeps a limpet-like hold on old grievances. Swamy is largely inscrutable. and then on to Thiruvananthapuram to be the guest of honour at a Rotary Club event. whe re I had watched him speak at a girls college. when he was a little boy.m flight from Mumbai to Indore. They said that if he put on some kind of shawl. Before the 2G scam. but Swamy. Sam Rajappa. he is a careful listener and a conscientiou s observer. you ll h ave to put on a jacket and a tie. From Indore. in this daily life. if he thinks you h ave crossed him or done something wrong . and in photos dating back more than 30 years. although his innate restlessness leaks ou t of him through the occasional tic. with perhaps the addition of a wa istcoat in colder weather. In 1997. He is also. now I m g oing to sleep. the y would let him in. at a late lunch in an RSS worker s house in Dhar. For years thereafter. if Swamy called a pres s conference. he travels incessantly because there is a fresh clamour for him. Burki said with a laugh.) Some years ago. MD Nalapat. In person. in his 80s now.

My father was so upset about that remark. there could perhaps be no more genuine ges ture of respect. the friend said. Subramanian Swamy is Sicilian. tossed off in entirely good humour. Aiyar remarked that if t he rumours then appearing in the newspapers about Swamy joining the Congress were tr ue. who first met Sw amy at a Holi party thrown in 1988 by the Times of India scion Samir Jain where ins tead of playing Holi. but even w ith them. This empathy deficit illustrated why. When will I see you again? Swamy said. saw that relationship evaporate in a single evening in 1992. He d praise the Indian mongrel as the best kind of dog out there. He has some wit. During the Emergency. Bu t his way of disciplining his dog was brutal. He has no sense of humour. Subramanian told me. but Subramanian thinks his brother merely finds it easy to be detached and impersonal. though. but for Swamy. Despite his deep reserves of arrogance and vitriol. in a debate titled W(h)ither India? I still maintain it was a stupid subject. who had been fairly friendly with Swamy through the 1980s. you never know who will be useful when. an occasional columnist for the RSS weekly . she s very bright! But it was from Panini also th at I heard the most touching story about Swamy about how.e had tried to arrest Swamy for his involvement in a trust set up by Chandraswam i. In our next bi rth. because in Indian politics. Aiyar criticised Swamy for not being a team player. and for possessing no social skills to that end. we sat in a corner and talked laissez-faire economics likened Swamy s temperament to that of the irascible diplomat VK Krishna Menon. and he doesn t want to convince i diots that they are geniuses. the self-appointed Tantrik godman accused of serial financial fraud. That s a weakness. Panini said. for instance. See. when he was going underground to avoid arrest. teaching economics and sociology. One friend who knew him in the 1970 s. Aiyar insisted. Mani Shankar Aiyar. BHAWAN SINGH / INDIA TODAY GROUP Swamy carrying books at Parliament Gate in 1989. who has never left his party. Representing the Oxfor d and Cambridge Society of India. he said. Aiyar said. In his v iews on revenge. certainly. Swamy values intelligence. who spoke for the Ha rvard Club of India. It s not just about making powerful deba ting points. When his turn came to speak. The remark w as. but his party-men have left him. Organiser. Sometimes I think he carries this detachment too far. Nalapat. He d tie it to a tree and beat it se verely if it did anything wrong. my mother asked him. told me. and had gotten it published in an academic journal. after studying at the DSE a place that was. Swamy suffers fools very badly and very publicly. he really likes their brains. Nalapat wrote. a bastion of left . he thought Swamy wasn t cut out for Indian politics: There s a lot of deferenc e and emotional attachment involved here. He hasn t spoken to me sinc e. and he doesn t have that. then India would indeed wither on the vine. Swamy has fared emphati cally less well. Nalapat. told me that Swamy used to be very fond o f dogs. It was a curio us act of filial love. as he described it. The first thing he will say about his gr anddaughter.Above any sort of sentiment. is. I was told endle ssly by those who know him. Swamy had rescued from some obscure government file a paper authored by Sitaraman Subramanian. after his father s demise. The compa rison is not entirely sound. Menon hitched his wagon shrewdly and tightly enough to Nehru s star that he was frequently called India s second-most powerful man. and who wished to remain anonymous. Swamy is close to his daughters. Aiyar had taken on Swamy. FOUR M N PANINI HAD JOINED IIT DELHI in 1968. but a sense of humour is the ability to laugh at yourself. He was asked to join the Rajya Sabha for the Janata Party in 1973. because this is one unique indivi dual.

in Parliament.ism. Swamy said. Since he didn t believe in taking attendance in his classes. I felt very bad about it. and freeze India s ties with the Soviet Union. I would have gone back. They didn t ask him to defend himself in an inqu iry. and caustically. and they sent me this letter. [saying] as of 5 pm you re out . for Swamy. Swamy helped set up IIT Delhi employee organisation s. Swamy came to IIT as a b reath of fresh air. often under the wing of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. famil iar terrain another kind of classroom. He was saying things that shook me up and made me see my teachers in a different light altogether. agitating on behalf of their memb ers but not bound to the left. Panini said. If I hadn t got that call. he was sitting in his campus office one day in December 1972. the traditional tent-pole of unionism. proved similarly unpopular. But Panini told me that Swamy must have known he was in trouble. where he could in theory free India s e conomy from government control and foreign aid. he had started to s ense a marked hostility towards his job applications from academic institutions across India. KN Govindacharya.Swa my had been attending Jan Sangh meetings since his return from Harvard in 1969. Let s go back [to Am erica]. He called so stridently for economic liberalisation blasphemy in socialist India that even his prime minister was forced to take note. had no econom ic plank to speak of at the time. even. w ith 18 percent interest. and they saw in him a man who coul d provide a certain academic ballast. dropped t he class after registering for it. in fact. There c ame a time when I ran out of money and I finally told my wife. an inflexion point. INDIAN EXPRESS ARCHIVE Swamy with Prime Minister Morarji Desai in the 1970s. The Jan Sangh. Swamy said. which can only be called right-wing unions. he had worked for a few months with Jayaprakash Narayan s Sarvodaya movement in Madu rai. One of the stude nts whom Swamy had been marking Present for an entire term had. const ruct a national water grid to produce an agricultural surplus. This banal matter of the attendance register. Along with Panini and Amit Mitra. Swamy sued IIT Delhi for wrongful dis missal. This was. a senior RSS pracharak. during the debate on the budget in 1970. a precursor of the BJP. By the end of 1973. saying we re sending you to the Rajya Sa bha. he quit a nd joined the IIT economics department in December 1969. who had taken a liking to him. . said Panini. After Swamy s prospects at that very school had collapsed. proved to be ostensibl y one of the proximate causes for his dismissal from IIT Delhi. and he mesmerised everybody. which imm ediately seems to disqualify it as an environment suitable for Swamy. from 1973 to 1991. I got a phone ca ll from Nanaji Deshmukh in the Jan Sangh. he said. Indira Gandhi famously dismissed him as a Santa Claus with unrea listic ideas . When Swamy was denied the post of finance minister under Desai. Swamy preferred to hang out with junior professors or with his students. who now lives as a semi-retired academic in Mysore. he won. but he is still petitioning to receive the salary owed to him. he blamed the machinations of Vajpayee. still remembers a speech Swamy delivered at a Jan Sangh conclave in Patna in 1970: He spoke about his Swadeshi plan for 10 percent economic growth. he simp ly signed every one of his students in as Present and handed in his registers. so maybe that was why he was surprised. But he knew they were after his blo od. He lasted three years. And out of the blue. which brought Swamy s practice to the attention of the IIT s director. In the first major lawsuit of his life. He spoke his mind frequently. for Swamy. build a nuclear deterrent. To the consternation of his peers. he said. he didn t. in the end. now W est Bengal s finance minister. I thought anybody who didn t believe in Marx wasn t a human being. Swamy told me that his dismissal came as a complete shock. I d been indoctrinated. at IIT faculty meeti ngs. This was. Panini describes the IIT of the early 1970s as an authoritarian place. but after becoming impatient with its strictly apolitical temper. When I emerged after my MA. his wife s applications.

Swamy s career in electoral p . In 1977. The high commissioner at the time was BK Nehru.For his part. You have to come here to fight. Singh told me. from the Mum bai North-East constituency in the elections immediately after the Emergency. even if you had put up a donkey as a Janata Party candidate. For us working in the underground at the ti me. I ll get out the same way I got in. Swamy walked backward s into the main terminal. you ve left out democracy. Swamy booked himself a British Airways ticket fro m London to Bangkok. who was the deputy high commissioner to the UK in the mid-197 0s. And these people were being very nice to me. and where he set up an organisation called Friends of I ndia to decry Indira Gandhi and the Emergency overseas. slipping ove r the border into Nepal. he figured . his name would not appear on the man ifest of India-bound passengers even though the flight would stop for refuelling in New Delhi. which has also died. chutzpah and an intimate study of airline timetable s. When he started to fear that an unbroken absence of more than 60 working days from Parliament might stri p him of his Rajya Sabha seat. that she declared elections soon after Swamy s escapade because if he could get in to India and even into Parliament undetected. exited the airport and caught a taxi into the city. Jagdish Shetty narrated to me a n observation reportedly made by CM Stephen. Before the Rajya Sabha s security staff could be summoned. often travelling in a beard and a Sikh turban. I remember him telling someone else. A haze of apocrypha hangs over this interpretat ion of Gandhi s motives. he returned to America. I needed nerves of steel. flashed his parliamentary ID at the constable on duty. suspects that Swamy must have been more conflicted about l eaving academia than he cares to admit today. don t come as a wimp. is unclear. but it served well to embellish the mythos that Swamy had managed to construct around himself. a longtime RSS swayamsevak. frankly. Swamy experienced an unfamiliar sense of welcome in the Jan Sangh. That is why I felt comfortable with the Jan Sangh. How will you get out of the UK? He said. But I think even when he came back from Harvard. Swamy had nipped back o ut of Parliament. The Jan Sangh sheltered and protected Swamy during the most dramatic segment of his life: his escape from arrest and his re-entry into India during the Emergenc y a caper involving disguises. When I asked him if he ever regretted turning his back on the academic life. K Natwar Singh. there was a halo around Swamy during the Emergency. he said that it had been an easy decision. Swamy still chortles at th e memory of the confounded faces of his fellow parliamentarians: They were thinki ng I was going to throw a bomb. it showed things were not as much under her control as she d thought . He drove to a rendezvous with his wife. one of Indira Gandhi s closest aides. it would have won. In the transit lounge at the Delhi airport. Swamy continued on to the US. he had arrived there via Sri Lanka. I had felt such a sense of betrayal by t he intellectual class. later. recalled that Swamy had landed up at India House in London without a passpor t. he had a vision of becoming the prime minister. changed his clothes an d. and he made no bon es about it. he told me that his entrance was carefully timed to give him an opening to state loudly: Mr Speaker. Swamy signed the attendance book and oiled into the Rajya Sab ha just as the last name in a list of obituaries was being read out. On 10 August 1976. If you come back to India. where he was promptly offered a visiting p rofessorship at Harvard. who talked to him frequentl y during this period. and he asked Swamy. this way. He did. with the help of the RSS. Swa my recalled. after having circulated through the house s of friends scattered across India for six months. Ever since 1977. His passport had been impounded because of the Emergency. Panini. because I would have been awar e of it. sank back into the underground. Panini said. said Shetty. and I know he wasn t issued one in London. Sam Rajappa told me. How much this reputation helped Swamy win his first Lok Sabha seat. he said.

ev en though he remained rooted in the increasingly thinning ranks of the Janata Pa rty.olitics has been a perpetual coalescing and re-coalescing of allies and foes. .