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Swamy May Be Spearheading An Unfolding Ultra-Nationalist Agenda

22/06/2016 7:43 PM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 9:25 PM IST
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Subramanian Swamy, member of India's parliament for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), speaks during an interview in New Delhi, India, on Friday, May 20, 2016. Outspoken, nationalist and combative toward minorities including Muslims and gays, Swamy has long been a lightning rod for controversy in India. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Here's the intriguing thing about Subramanian Swamy. His outbursts can no longer be ignored. Having helped to script RBI governor Raghuram Rajan's exit with a series of sharp personal attacks, his latest tirade against chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian has set the Yamuna on fire. Could this key aide to the finance minister be Swamy's next scalp?

As the Rajan episode suggests, there may be a method to Swamy's seeming madness. In retrospect, it is obvious that Swamy was playing hatchet man for the government in the Rajan case. He articulated what the powers-that-be hesitated to say to the RBI governor. It took two letters and multiple tweets from Swamy over a period of a month for Rajan to quit. The government remained silent while the storm swirled.

Subramanian's fate will unfold in time. But for now, Swamy seems unstoppable.

In the short span of two months, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi nominated him to the Rajya Sabha in May to be precise, his profile has zoomed to dizzy heights. This was a man long dismissed as a loud mouth, a maverick, a loose canon and no loyalties. But now, at age 76, his political career has got second wind as he emerges as a force to reckon with in the current dispensation.

This was a man long dismissed as a loud mouth, a maverick, a loose canon and no loyalties. But now, at age 76, his political career has got second wind...

Ironically, many in the BJP failed to read the tea leaves when he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. He was shooting salvos from the margins for so long that the nomination was seen as a lollipop to keep him quiet. Despite his formidable connections in the RSS, Swamy never really made it in the BJP. When he joined the party in 2013, it was with the expectation that he would be accommodated in a senior organizational post given his long years in politics. Nothing happened.

In 2014, he lobbied hard for a BJP ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Delhi or Mumbai. He was denied a seat. When Modi assumed office, he had hoped for a ministership, preferably finance, but would have been satisfied with any official position carrying cabinet rank. He got nothing. Much later, he was finally given a government bungalow, security and other paraphernalia with a stern message that he would have to be content with just trimmings.

His luck turned this year when he was made a Rajya Sabha MP. But few realized what his role would be. Many in the BJP thought his brief was political, limited to turn the heat on the Gandhi family. He performed with aplomb from his first day in the House when he raked up the Augusta Westland helicopter scandal and did the unthinkable by accusing Sonia Gandhi by name of corruption.

It is now dawning on his fellow BJP members and others in the political class that Swamy could be more than just a Gandhi-baiter.

It is now dawning on his fellow BJP members and others in the political class that Swamy could be more than just a Gandhi-baiter. He may be the spearhead of a broader ultra-nationalist agenda that is slowly unfolding.

Read his lips on Rajan. The RBI governor was accused of not being "mentally fully Indian", of leaking "confidential and sensitive information from the RBI" to persons across the world, of "wrecking the economy'' and so on.

There are echoes of the same sentiments in the allegations he has thrown at Subramanian. Describing him as "Subramanian of Washington DC", he accused the chief economic advisor of selling out Indian interests to American pharma and of encouraging the Congress to stall the GST.

Swamy has made no bones about working closely with the current dispensation. He calls them his "friends" in the government and the party and claims to regularly consult with them. It may well be that he is his master's voice on potentially controversial issues. The fact that he holds no official position gives the government the fig leaf of plausible deniability. Swamy's outbursts can always be dismissed as his personal views.

However, the fig leaf may soon wear thin. If Subramanian quits, the government can no longer hide in the comfort zone of deniability. And then there is Swamy's penchant for self-glorification which can lead him to overstep his brief. He has always boasted that even his father could not control him. It will be interesting to see whether the Modi-Amit Shah duo can keep him on a tight leash.

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