From Dethroning A PM And A CM To Fighting IT Cell: The Stunning Irrelevance Of Dr Subramanian Swamy
From a stalwart who could dethrone a prime minister or a chief minister in the 1990s to fighting for the removal of his own party’s IT cell head, Dr Swamy has come a long way.
But no one has done it to him.
If someone were to pen the history of the biggest ideological u-turns in the 21st century India so far, two candidates will surely feature at the top of the list: Dr Arun Shourie and Dr Subramanian Swamy.
The former was once one of the foremost intellectuals of the Hindutva brigade who took on its many nemesis - Mullah, Marxist, Missionary, Nehruvian Secularists, Eminent Historians and who not. In his heyday, he rubbed shoulders with the Sitaram Goel-Ram Swarup-Girilal Jain trio who would today easily be described as leading luminaries of 'Hindu fascism' by the same cabal that Dr Shourie is often seen hobnobbing with these days.
Some one can fake their ideology for long by virtue-signalling but Shourie didn’t just signal, he was epitome of ‘skin in the game’ philosophy. He put in the actual work for decades and manufactured enough ammunition that will continue to be employed by the Hindu side for long time to come. But if a man of that solid conviction can cross over to the dark side so smoothly, can the ‘Right’ be faulted for having extreme trust issues with former opponents who now fight on its side in the ongoing “culture wars”?
Take Dr Swamy. In 2000, when he was 60 years old, certainly not a political novice by any measure, he warned the nation about “the creeping fascism of the RSS”. He accused the RSS of doing a sort of magic on the likes of Shourie. “Some yesteryear civil libertyites such as Arun Shourie have been co-opted. Others are being wooed or chased,” Dr Swamy wrote in a piece for Frontline in the same year. The funny thing is Shourie can have his revenge now by regurgitating Dr Swamy’s 20-year-old article and replacing his name with that of Swamy. Oh, how beautifully the wheel of time moves.
To be clear, changing sides isn’t new for politicians. In fact, it’s the only constant. After all, Indian politics isn’t infamous for its “Aayaram, Gayaram” culture for nothing. But ideological black-flips are rare.
It’s not our case that people don’t change views or shouldn’t. We all evolve and grow out of silly political positions we once took as young adults due to ignorance. But the cases of Dr Shourie and Dr Swamy are indeed ‘rarest of rare’ as there has been a complete 180-degree change in their views in a short span of time. Moreover, for someone to do that at the age of 65 or 72 raises doubts over genuineness of the “change of heart”.
Hence, the trust issues.
Organised ideology-based organisations like the Sangh and the BJP tend to have elephantine memory. They reward competence and loyalty but when it comes to prioritising one over the other, the latter is likely to be a clincher. So, it wouldn’t have been easy for them to forget Dr Swamy‘s long list of diatribes (he once called Sangh as ’more intelligent than the German fascists’). Still, he was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat by the same Sangh probably for Dharmic points he earned due to fighting the good fight against UPA’s Himalayan corruption, anti-Hindu politics of the Gandhi parivar and many helpful legal interventions for some important Hindu causes.
Of course, Dr Swamy has been yearning for the all important post of Finance Minister since 2014, a misplaced aspiration given his suspect loyalty not just to the RSS or the BJP but to the Hindutva ideology itself.
Even after merging his party with the BJP and despite being selected as a Rajya Sabha member with its backing, Dr Swamy hasn’t shied away from attacking the government whenever it is vulnerable. He may term it as constructive criticism but as Arun Jaitley (who he used to call Shakuni) once remarked a party person airing criticism of the outfit in public is a sign of his irrelevance inside it.
Be it the Rafale deal, demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax, China policy, key appointments, tax cuts, selling of Air India which is bleeding taxpayers' money, construction of new central vista in New Delhi, holding NEET/JEE exams - there is no significant government policy he hasn’t criticised. To then threaten the PM to make him the Finance Minister takes chutzpah.
Then there is his reputation as a “panda hugger“, a term used for leaders outside China sympathetic to the ruling Communist party regime. His geopolitical advice, which he has been dishing out regularly these days on how to counter the CCP’s designs, become immediately suspect.
While one can forgive Dr Swamy for being a compulsive contrarian, he has been consistent on at least one thing: his economics and his criticism of the government’s handling of the economy.
But does Dr Swamy has anything new to offer on this front? Before 2019 general elections, Dr Swamy said that the Modi government doesn’t understand macroeconomics and that it would cost the government dearly in the polls.
But after Modi’s splendid victory, Dr Swamy found the reason for it in his microeconomics - building crores of houses, distributing cylinders and sending money directly into Jan Dhan accounts of the poor - thus proving perfectly Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s dictum that “it’s easier to macrobullshit than microbullshit”
This is not to cast doubt over his command of economics. Anyone who has read his work and knows about his brilliance and achievements in the field will testify that he is no lightweight. But politicians don’t just need economic experts but those who are masters of political economy.
Moreover, Dr Swamy has received huge criticism from other economists for suggesting “reforms” such as abolishing income tax, having rate on deposits above 9 per cent, lowering exchange rate of rupee against dollar, printing more money to finance infrastructure projects, etc.
Given his hold over the subject, Dr Swamy should surely thresh out his ideas and settle the debate academically. One would advise him to start an economic policy school, get the top talent in the country and churn out professional economists who can take his ideas forward. This way, Dr Swamy can leave a legacy that will continue long after he is gone.
Sadly he has become a prisoner of his own image, always entangling himself into one controversy after another, rather than doing the great work that he is so brilliantly capable of.
At the dawn of social media, Dr Swamy tried to reinvent himself for the millennials - those who had a clean slate as far as knowledge of his checkered history was concerned. And he succeeded to a great extent. He boasts of one crore followers on Twitter today. More importantly, he emerged as an anti-corruption crusader, staunch anti-Nehru-Gandhi politician and pro-Hindutva warrior. But it was only a matter of time before the internet would remind him of his past.
As Dr Swamy’s criticism against the BJP sharpened, so did the attacks by the BJP faithful on his record and loyalty. Tired of this, he recently gave an ultimatum to the BJP to sack its IT cell head. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Nor it is likely to.
With each passing day, the stunning irrelevance of Dr Swamy stares him in the face. From a stalwart who could dethrone a prime minister or a chief minister in the 1990s to fighting for the removal of his own party’s IT cell head, Dr Swamy has come a long way. But no one has done it to him. He has made his own bed, however miserable it is. He must lie in it.
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