Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy is back on the scene, telling a new story peopled by familiar characters—the Gandhi family, more specifically Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party general secretary Rahul. Watching Arvind Kejriwal, information activist-turned-anti-corruption-crusader-turned-politician, grab the headlines on a daily basis, how could Swamy, who redefined the use of information in politics, sit quiet?
Swamy is often dubbed “Sherlock Swamy” for his ability to dig up all kinds of information against the who-is-who of Indian politics. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul are relatively recent targets of Swamy, whose friends and foes keep changing. He has friends in all political parties. These friendships are to a large extent seasonal. In truth, Subramanian Swamy has only one permanent friend: Subramanian Swamy; not surprisingly, the cover story on Swamy in Sunday Magazine, a weekly news magazine, in 1998 was titled, I, Me, Myself. People like P.Chidambaram, J. Jayalalithaa, M. Karunanidhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee can throw more light on this aspect of Swamy’s multifaceted personality.
Interestingly, Swamy’s allegations against the Gandhis haven’t got the treatment from the media that Kejriwal’s purported exposes did. Kejriwal’s accusations drew strong rebuttals; in the case of Swamy, Rahul Gandhi’s threat of legal action received more media attention than Swamy’s allegations.
Swamy is a politician—he is leader of the Janata Party, now a constituent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance. Kejriwal is not yet formally a politician. People tend to disbelieve politicians, especially when they raise allegations against their opponents.
Swamy started his public life as a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological parent. Later, he said one of his missions was to “free the country from the pernicious effect of the RSS...”
In his political career spanning almost four decades—he began his political life in the Sarvodaya movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan which later led to the formation of the original Janata Party in the 1970s—Swamy has never been consistent. He engaged in bitter rivalry with current Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha, but joined hands with her later.
He had a blow hot-blow cold relationship with the Gandhi family, too. Once close to Rajiv Gandhi, he became his bitterest critic. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Subramanian Swamy renewed his friendship with the Gandhis for a brief period—he was instrumental in the temporary friendship between Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha.
However, for most of his time in public life, Swamy has fought the Gandhis. Political rivals have always used Swamy’s allegations to attack the Congress presidents’ family. There were reports that the NDA government in 2001 ordered a preliminary inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the charges Swamy made against Sonia Gandhi. Swamy had then alleged that Sonia Gandhi’s family members in Italy received money from the KGB in Indo-Soviet trade deals and that the money was used in the 1989 general elections. Of course, the charges remained unproved.
Any allegations Swamy comes up with suffer a kind of credibility crunch for the simple reason that these are being raised by Subramanian Swamy.
Kejriwal’s apolitical status lends him more credibility with ordinary people.
While Swamy has an image of a cerebral personality—many say his intelligence has been utilized more for destructive than productive purposes—Kejriwal is considered a common man. He is certainly more amicable than Swamy, who can come across as arrogant and condescending.
Still, Swamy does have his share of victories, especially in the court rooms where he himself argues his cases. One recent victory came when the Supreme Court cancelled the 2G spectrum allocations and licences in February. It was a case in which Swamy dragged even the Prime Minister’s Office to the apex court.
To quote Swamy, “all that people want is authority. Everyone drools over the PM’s chair. Even the media have joined the bandwagon. They prop up new leaders and have favourite whipping boys who are abused for no reason... Subramanian Swamy’s name tops the list. Everyone is out to attack me.”
The fact of the matter is that anyone can be on Swamy’s own hit list, even Kejriwal.