Subramanian Swamy championed by Supreme Court advocate wife Roxna, uses the system to fight the system
He’s the political gadfly, with a penchant for making headlines, while she shrinks from the limelight: Subramanian Swamy and his wife Roxna are like chalk and cheese.
“If you are dynamic, honest, straightforward, it does affect people. I think he is brilliant. I have seen him with ordinary, timid students, building them up," Roxna says, explaining what first attracted her, a Parsi, to Subramanian, a Tamil Brahmin.
She had enrolled at Harvard University, US, to study math in 1964. Subramanian had just become an assistant professor in the department of economics. “We met casually in the dining room. Professors at Harvard were seven or eight years older than me, so I found it easier to mingle with students," he says. Subramanian received his doctorate in economics from Harvard in 1965, under the guidance of Simon Kuznets, who went on to receive the Nobel Prize in 1971.
Subramanian says: “In fact, I survived IIT (the Indian Institute of Technology, where he was teaching economics and statistics) because of her father, an ICS (Indian Civil Service) officer. They came around (later); the educated class come around."
How does this reconcile with the “anti-Muslim" views Subramanian expressed in an op-ed piece for the DNA? All the more since his son-in-law (married to younger daughter, CNN-IBN news anchor and deputy foreign affairs editor Suhasini Haidar) is a Muslim?
Roxna insists it needs to be read in its entirety: “The op-ed was written three or four years after a book he had written propounding the same thesis. No one seems upset by the book!" Five decades on, dinner table conversation remains politics and law. Roxna admits the journey has been “a bit hair-raising at times" due to Subramanian’s escapades.
A DEMOCRACY OF TWO: Subramanian: There are some decisions I don’t touch at all; for instance, how much money to spend. I have no control on money at all. If I want money I have to ask her. Roxna: I haven’t noticed that you do (laughs).
Roxna has strong political views: “Dr Swamy ended on friendly terms with Mrs Indira Gandhi. I did not. Mrs Gandhi did make some friendly overtures, I never responded. I disapproved entirely of how she turned the whole country upside down to hold power," says Roxna. “She was tyrannical, dictatorial and corrupt."
When Subramanian was dismissed from the IIT, Delhi faculty in the early 1970s for alleging corruption within the institute, it was Roxna who ensured they were not thrown out of their quarters. “I put furniture against the door, called the police and showed them the stay order, then filed a contempt of court petition," she says.
WIDE ANGLE, SHARP FOCUS: Subramanian: From Day 1, I never touched money. She has total control and she is a ‘maha kanjoos’ (stingy), so it’s not easy to get money. This house, for example, was built by her. I did not contribute at all.
CROSS-CURRENTS: Subramanian: There are areas where she has strong opinions but I have much stronger opinions; that is where the conflict is. She hates onions, I love them. There has been fierce fighting also.
He rejects labels. “Just because I am pro-Hindu does not mean I must be anti-Muslim. They (critics) don’t know what else to say about me. They can’t say I am corrupt or ultra-conservative, so they say I am the Hindutva type."
DO NOT OPEN: Roxna: Swamy, I don’t think you have held back on anything. Subramanian: If I think something has to be done, I will do it. Roxna: And do it with a lot of loud rude comments!
So, what has sustained their marriage? “We are opposites, yeah, but not in fundamentals," says Subramanian. “If you know the other is not going to bend and you have the capacity to let go, it is easy for two strong-willed people to survive together."