Dr. Subramanian Swamy – ever the unfettered rebel

Swamy believes he has all the qualities of a trouble shooter � one who is able to solve problems. But all his detractors and even most of his friends and well-wishers see him more as a troublemaker, one who creates problems and confounds already existing ones.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy – ever the unfettered rebel

Why Dr. Subramanian Swamy, despite his excellent credentials, has not been given any major responsibility in government?

The question is certainly less of a riddle than the one surrounding the overall persona of Swamy, the politician and public figure. Swamy sincerely believes – not without some justification – that he is PM material and certainly Finance Minister material – he has greater credibility here as he is a well-known economist.

He is bold to say that he will abolish income tax if he were the Finance Minister. He convincingly argues how it can be done to the best advantage of the people and the government. Expenditure tax is one of the various alternatives to income tax, he argues, though such a suggestion has come from others as well. But the idea may not jell under the current circumstances when the government is encouraging voluntary disclosure schemes to declare unaccounted, tax evaded money.

Swamy believes he has all the qualities of a trouble shooter – one who is able to solve problems. But all his detractors and even most of his friends and well-wishers see him more as a troublemaker, one who creates problems and confounds already existing ones.

In short, few doubt Swamy's abilities but are not sure how he would channelise them –  constructively or otherwise. For, his record so far has not inspired confidence in people who are in a position to entrust him with responsibilities.

No wonder, none, at least not those who know Swamy's basic psyche, expected Swamy to be given a place in the Narendra Modi government after he was nominated as a Rajya Sabha member in April this year.

In the Cabinet expansion that followed, Swamy found no place. In fact, he did not even attend the swearing-in ceremony of those inducted into the government at Rashtrapati Bhavan. He was in Bhubaneswar, attending a function of Odisha university. Asked by reporters if he was not sad and disappointed that he was not included in the union council of ministers, a smiling Swamy countered, "Am I looking sad?” Explaining further, he termed the habit of hankering after office a "British mindset”.

Never apologetic about his being a Brahmin, which is not always a politically advantageous proposition, Swamy is never shy of admitting the fact of his birth. "Brahmins and learned persons never had any posts, yet Rajas listened to them. If I say anything on any matter, the Raja listens to me. I am in that good position today."

That is Swamy on being a Brahmin!

"If made a minister, I will be confined to one ministry. Now, I can talk on all ministries. Don't feel sad for me....", Swamy said.

Once at a conference on the problem of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, Swamy said he could trace his origin to the beautiful region as his 'gotra' is Kashyapa, the rishi Kashyap who is believed to be the originator of Kashmiri Brahmins or Pandits.

Not seen wearing ever a tilak or holy ash on his forehead as the overtly religious do, Swamy is proud of his spirituality as a member of the top ladder in the Hindu caste system. During free chats with me at Parliament House complex, Swamy would often say, “ I am a genuine Brahmin, I make my living out of teaching, a Brahminical vocation.”

It is not that Swamy was never entrusted with offices of responsibility. After all, he had served as a member of the Planning Commission and was a Cabinet Minister in the Chandra Shekhar government in 1991. Earlier in November 1978, Swamy was a member of the Group of Eminent persons and was called to Geneva, Switzerland to prepare a report of the United Nations (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)) on Economic Co-operation between Developing countries (ECDC). Swamy also simplified trade procedures and formulated a new export strategy which became the forerunner of trade reform adopted subsequently. In 1994, Swamy was appointed as Chairman of the Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade by former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao.

Swamy may belong to the BJP, a so-called Hindutva party, often accused of being communal and anti-Muslim. But he has excellent secular credentials. His criticism of Muslims does not spring from hatred or prejudice. His insistence on their being once Hindus and their shared Indian culture cannot be dubbed 'communal.” Even so, his “communalism” is less of an evil than the 'vote-bank secularism' of his detractors. He is a true member of the composite culture of India. His wife is a Parsi and his son-in-law a Muslim. His elder daughter Gitanjali is an entrepreneur and private equity professional. Younger daughter Suhasini is a print and television journalist married to Nadeem Haider, the son of former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider.

In 1987, when Muslim youths were killed under police custody, Swamy spoke against it and sat on a fast for more than a week in Jantar Mantar demanding the institution of an inquiry, though his critics call his efforts as being politically motivated.

Swamy's views on Kashmir are forthright and frank. In a 2008 article, arguing against giving the state to Pakistan, Swamy wrote: "I would say that the silent suffering majority of India wants none of this. The 'Kashmir issue,' in fact, can no more be solved by dialogue either with the Pakistanis or the Hurriyat, leave alone the constitutional impossibility of allowing it to secede. Kashmir, in fact, is now our defining identity. It is a touchstone for our resolve to preserve our national integrity. The population of that State may be majority Muslim but the land and its history are predominantly Hindu. For our commitment to the survival of the ancient civilisation of India and the composite culture that secularists talk of, we have not only to win that coming inevitable war but also resolve never to part with Kashmir.”

Whether in or out of office, Swamy enjoys doing what he does best – revel in controversies. He is completing 77 years on September 15. Number 77 may prove lucky for Swamy. For it was in 1977 when Swamy was first elected to the Lok Sabha in the post-emergency polls. He was elected to the House from North-East Bombay where incidentally I was a voter then. No marks for guessing who did my secret ballot go in the highly surcharged anti-emergency atmosphere!