Wheels within wheels for Modi
Within hours Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned the publicity seekers, his party’s leader Subramanian Swamy began firing salvos at him. Master stroke came when he tweeted, “If I apply Samuelson-Swamy Theory of Index Numbers to India's GDP calculation or RBI interests rates, media will scream anti-party activity!” Earlier he shot back by responding that it is publicity that relentlessly seeks him and not the other way round. Swamy’s rebuff has created a silent but strong storm in the inner corridors of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and its Union government.
Perhaps literally afraid of Swamy, the normally hysterical “nation wants to know” journalist asked the question to Prime Minister about Swamy, taking care to not name him, in the best possible and flattering style; and the otherwise “my way or highway” Prime Minister also took care to not to take Swamy’s name, but the context was so obvious that Swamy practically took no time to tell Modi that such warnings are not his cup of tea.
Modi is patting himself for India’s GDP growth at 7.6 percent, which Rahul Gandhi claims is fudged. Modi has kept on mentioning the fact during his recent foreign trips that India’s GDP numbers are fastest growing in the world and even better than China.
What could be more serious than questioning the GDP achievement by one of BJP’s own stalwarts who is closed to RSS? In 2005, Swamy and Paul Samuelson had written a paper together titled “Invariant Economic Index Numbers and Canonical Duality: Survey and Synthesis”. The paper points out difficulties for economists in monitoring monetary policies.
The intention behind Swamy’s attacks on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, and Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikant Das were so obviously aimed at Modi that it became necessary for the Prime Minister to express his mind in a subtle way during the recent TV interview. Swamy’s equally subtle rebuttal has made it clear that he is going to be a serious hurdle in Modi’s way in times to come.
It is not a hidden fact that Swamy could get a berth in the upper house of the Parliament despite Modi and several of his influential colleagues opposed to the idea of accommodating Swamy in Rajya Sabha. Swamy’s closeness to RSS paid him dividends and his presence in Parliament will give sleepless nights to Modi too.
If Modi thinks that he can shake hands with Swamy sometime, I would like to take the Prime Minister 18 years back when one of the most respected BJP politicians Atal Bihari Vajpayee was badly hackled by Swamy. Some passages from Swamy’s autobiography were published by Tamil weekly “Kumudham” in its issue of February 20, 1997. The way Swamy has poured venom and vitriol on Vajpayee and casting aspersions on his private life was something that breached all the codes of conduct in public life.
Swamy wrote, “Just to get out of the prison on parole, Vajpayee had given a letter of apology to Indira Gandhi. He had the 91 MPs of the Jan Sangh under his control. He could not stomach the fame I got as a hero…..He tricked Morarji Desai into giving me just a minister of state…..As the then external affairs minister, Vajpayee tried his best to prevent me from visiting China and he indeed succeeded for a year.
However, in 1978, Morarji paved the way for my China visit. Morarji accepted only my ideas about China and totally rejected Vajpayee's readings. Vajpayee's only concern was to please the Soviet Union…..Though Charan Singh got a bad name for pulling down the Morarji government, the real culprits are Vajpayee and Ramakrishna Hegde…..It was Vajpayee and Hegde who met the President with the letter claiming support of 279 MPs. Out of this 23 MPs' signatures were forged. Investigative agencies alerted the President and he made it public…..”
Swamy also wrote, “Vajpayee was embarrassed when Morarji sternly warned him to stop drinking. In Delhi, the Japanese External Affairs Minister had organised a party. Vajpayee, who was present there as India's External Affairs Minister, was drunk. I was also invited for that dinner. I was shocked to see the External Affairs Minister fully intoxicated…..When Morarji asked me, I told him everything.
Then, in front of me, he summoned Vajpayee and abused him. But Vajpayee did not open his mouth. He was standing there like a student caught red handed…..As a retaliation and to keep Morarji within limits, Vajpayee sowed poison in Charan Singh's mind. It was Vajpayee who first planted the idea of prime ministership in the mind of Charan Singh.
He kept meeting Morarji and Charan Singh separately and started spreading stories against each other. Popular perception is that it was Charan Singh who broke Janata. But the fact is that it was Vajpayee who destroyed the fort called Janata…..Morarji and Charan Singh are like Kaikeyee of the Ramayana. In the Janata Ramayana, Kooni's role was played by Vajpayee…..”
Those who know Swamy well say that his prime ministerial ambitions remain undiminished. I recall the days of 1979, when I was a trainee journalist, Swamy had given an interview to a famous magazine where he said, “I have a feeling of destiny. I know in ten years’ time I will be Prime Minister.” Ten years later, Dr Swamy was asked to give his personal progress report and he said, “That ambition remains, nothing has gone wrong with it. I am within striking distance of that ambition.
I am well-educated, I am known all over the country, I am more capable than most people around. All I need is a vote bank and an organisation.” Swamy’s wife, a well-regarded advocate of Supreme Court, Roxana Swamy told a magazine few years back, “He has a great selection of friends across the political spectrum. He’s brilliant, no doubt about it. Because he’s so brilliant, people want to put him down. Even now he’s capable of being Prime Minister.”
I would advise Modi not to take Swamy as a “what you see is what you get” politician. It could be difficult even for Modi to understand the layers Swamy has. He is not a straight forward subject to read. From Morarji Desai to Chandraswami to Jayalalithaa, Swamy has crossed innumerable political forests. Modi is a novice in comparison.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. The views expressed are strictly personal.)