Swarajya’s National Affairs Editor Surajit Dasgupta interviews economist and politician Subramanian Swamy who says things that others would think thrice about before opening their mouths.
Subramanian Swamy—economist, teacher, politician, irrepressible “trouble maker” and relentless hounder of the Nehru-Gandhi family. The case he lodged in 2012 against the Congress’ supposed illegalities involving the little-known but very-wealthy newspaper called National Herald, has reached the Delhi High Court now, which has asked Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to appear before it.
What is the National Herald case? You can read our previous interview with Swamy, which explains the issue in easy-to-understand terms.
For many years now, people have seen YouTube videos where you are seen targeting the Nehru-Gandhi family for various reasons — for their educational background, for the alleged dubious dealings they had had at different places, etc. Do you have something personal against this family?
Not really. When you are fighting an enemy you think is bad for the country, all dimensions of that person’s life are important. It’s there in most democratic countries. (Bill) Clinton, whether he had an affair with (Monica) Lewinsky or not — they brought it all out in the open! Mahatma Gandhi had said ‘there is no such thing for a public person as a public life and a private life. Yes, there are, for instance, supposing I have a quarrel with my wife — that may not be part of my public life; it does not impinge on society. But if you have, say, slept with a Pakistani spy — although there are arguments of mutual consent, blah blah, which the liberal society justifies — it has a public interest value.
You believe this family is that dangerous?
This family is totally anti-national as far as India is concerned. (but) I must tell you this much: Rajiv Gandhi and I were very, very close friends, extremely close friends. In Parliament when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, he used to sit next to me along the aisle. After he lost office, he and I used to meet at 2 am everyday for two hours. So I know almost everything about the circumstances in which he got married, and what the relationship between the two (Rajiv and Sonia) was.
I cannot say I am anti-Nehru-Gandhi family per se, but I certainly was, from Day 1 (anti-Nehru). Even when I was a school student, I took an intuitive dislike for Jawaharlal Nehru. There was no explanation. I just had it! The dislike was continuous as I learnt more and more about him. I was dead against Indira Gandhi till she returned to power in 1980. She made very strenuous efforts to befriend me — largely because of Rajiv Gandhi’s influence. Towards the time before her death, she and I were good friends. She and I used to meet off and on, and she used to take my view; she certainly took my help on China. And so, I won’t say, in her last days, she and I were opposed to each other, although I didn’t think too much of her.
I thought well of Rajiv. He was a great patriot, thought he would make a great Prime Minister if he came back for the second time around, and I supported him. Openly, on the floor of Parliament, (I said) he didn’t get the Bofors money, (Ottavio) Quattrocchi (Sonia’s close friend) got it, and these were proved quite later, too late.
When I had not researched her (Sonia’s) background, I was friendly with her. But she is a total actress. When she wants to be friends, she will be great friends with you. At the time when (PV) Narasimha Rao had literally sidelined her — I was a great friend of Narasimha Rao; I had a ministerial rank position in his government as the chairman of a commission — she used to meet me once a week for tea. She, in fact, told me, ‘I’m more Sicilian than an Indian.’ I said, ‘Why do you say that?’ She said, ‘Indians like to be kicked.’ That’s what she told me. ‘Whereas you are a ruthless person,’ she told me. Because at that time I was giving a hard time to (J) Jayalalithaa! Real hard time, you see. I was filing cases left, right and centre.
So, she told me she was more of a Sicilian. And in my last meeting with her, I said, ‘This is my last meeting with you; I’ll never meet you again.’ I told her that ‘you told me you were more Sicilian than Indian’ and ‘now I’ll tell you what a Sicilian is’.
Through Rajiv Gandhi I came to know that she had a long-term association with the George Habash group of Palestinians and she used to send money to them. Once when Rajiv Gandhi was out of power, he made me fly to Tunisia and meet Yasser Arafat to inquire whether the money is reaching or not.
Sonia Gandhi made you fly to Tunisia?
No, Rajiv Gandhi did. I’ll tell you the exact date: 10 October 1990. I flew to Tunisia and met Yasser Arafat who was underground, which means special arrangements had to be made. I was received at the airport and taken to his hideout. Only because she (Sonia) was pestering him (Rajiv) to find out whether the money, after they ceased to be in power, was reaching the Palestinian families that had lost their sons in suicide bomb attacks.
Was that Indian money reaching them?
I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I assume it’s not. I really value Indian money. Dollars, probably pounds (sterling)!
Now, George Habash is a Christian group, but it’s also the group that trained the LTTE. Their connection with the LTTE ended when the Supreme Court held four people guilty to such an extent that they should be hanged; they should be executed; capital punishment should be given to them. She wrote a letter to the President saying that they should not be, and then later on sent her daughter to meet one of the assassins.
Since I was very fond of Rajiv, I couldn’t stomach it. Then I started doing the research. Therefore, to say that I have a pathological hatred for the Nehru-Gandhi family is not correct. Yes, I never liked Nehru, but that was pure policy. And, of course, I later on came to know that he gave up the offer of the UN Security Council, and then what he did on Kashmir, and the files I saw when I was one of the senior-most ministers in the Chandrashekhar government. All this only bolstered that view.
Indira Gandhi, I told you, was a good friend from 1981 to 1984 when she was assassinated. And Rajiv was a buddy. If Rajiv trusted anybody outside some friends I do not know about, I was considered his most trusted friend. Yesterday (8 December) there was a programme on NDTV that had three speakers who were journalists who knew me then. They said it was wrong to say Swamy has some antipathy towards the family; he was very good friends with Rajiv Gandhi.
But because of these varied relationships — you did not like Nehru; you did not quite like Indira Gandhi, but were quite close to her towards the end…
Yeah, I didn’t like her at all.
But you had a working relationship with her between 1980 and 1984.
That’s right. I did work for her; I did jobs for her; I went to China. You can see Deng Xiaoping sitting there with me (points at a photograph on the wall). He met no Indian leader, but he met me.
And then you were very close to Rajiv Gandhi.
Because of certain revelations, you grew averse to Sonia Gandhi.
Yes, as the facts started coming out, like when Rajiv Gandhi asked me to go to Tunisia. Why would he have anything to do with the Habash group?
Then later on the LTTE and their connections…And then I noticed her personal behaviour; she was not a woman of her words. I brought down the BJP government at her urging. And having brought it down, she made a deal with (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee to free Quattrocchi from Malaysia so that she could sabotage the formation of an alternative government!
This was 1999 when the NDA lost power by one vote in Parliament?
But because of this kind of a political history, your critics find you inconsistent.
Well, that’s a stupid thing to say. I never left the Janata Party. For years they said I have been changing parties all the time. Now they say, ‘He is changing alliances.’ Who hasn’t changed alliances, tell me? Sonia Gandhi brought down the (IK) Gujral government because (M) Karunanidhi was there (as an ally who supported the LTTE). Then, just three years later, she had an alliance with him! And the alliance still continues.
What about Vajpayee? What about today our having an alliance with Mufti Mohammed Saeed in Kashmir? I mean, they don’t know what else to say against me. They can’t say I am stupid; they can’t say I am an illiterate; they can’t say I am dishonest. So, you know, ‘inconsistent’ and ‘maverick’! ‘Maverick’ is a compliment in the United States. These idiots do not even know English, you see.
Would you say, since you had a role to play in bringing down the Vajpayee government, this present government is wary of you?
I don’t get that impression.
(A bit of history here, from Swarajya’s Surajit Dasgupta, Swamy’s interviewer)
At this point, a background of the BJP-Swamy fluctuating relationship is called for. As far as I know from the Sangh Parivar, Swamy’s name was mooted as a Union minister in the Morarji Desai government, to which Vajpayee had protested. In 1980 the RSS told Swamy that Vajpayee was about to finish him politically and the Sangh would not be able to protect him, given the sheer clout of the political biggie.
Swamy’s life in the Jana Sangh had also become difficult because Indira Gandhi, then back to power, was doing everything at her command to take him out of the party. She knew Swamy’s family, which had strong links with the Congress. Swamy’s grand-uncle was S Satyamurti, after whom the office of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee is named. Indira Gandhi knew Swamy had close relations with C Rajagopalachari while K Kamaraj used to stay in Swamy’s ancestral place off and on. Swamy, though, was persuaded by his mother, a believer in Hindutva, to switch to the Sangh.
When Swamy had gone underground during the Emergency, Vajpayee was against the move. He used to write letters to Swamy, asking him to surrender to the police, whereas it was the Sangh’s decision that a large chunk of its force must carry on with the campaign against Indira Gandhi’s autocracy while staying incognito. In 1980 after the Janata Party split while Swamy had emerged as a star of the fight against Emergency three years ago, the RSS told him that the political swayamsevaks, many of them now MPs or in the electoral race otherwise, were going to form another party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Swamy, an anti-socialist to the core who had lost his job at the IIT and Delhi University because he had refused to swear by socialism — to make a statement against communists — had a problem joining the BJP at that point because the party had stated its ideology as Gandhian Socialism.
The media of that era read it as a ‘hardliner’ Swamy being kept outside while a ‘moderate’ Vajpayee was in. They also said the Sangh had planned to keep Swamy outside to destroy the Janata Party; we know the party existed as Swamy’s one-man show until he joined the BJP before the 2014 election, while they were socialists, on whom there is no RSS influence, who had abandoned it much before. So, it is not just now when the BJP’s media management is in a shambles that journalists speculate what must be brewing in the ruling party; ill-informed media speculation has happened before.
The RSS had braced for the situation; it just asked Swamy not to turn so hostile to the BJP that it would become difficult for him to return to the Parivar. Swamy walked that tightrope till 2005 when Vajpayee was reported to have gone into a vegetative state. At that juncture, (then RSS chief) K Sudershan asked Ram Madhav to fix an appointment with Swamy, where the then Sarsanghchalak urged him to start building bridges with the party again. In due course, Swamy, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti returned to the party fold — again due to the mediation by the Sangh leadership. The RSS assured Swamy (as it did to others who returned) that his stance against Vajpayee wouldn’t be raked up in the public.
Therefore, the Sangh is with Swamy while Narendra Modi is not known to have a soft corner for the Congress’s Dynasty, which would make Swamy uncomfortable in the present ruling party.
The interview resumes.
Has the RSS been on positive terms with you throughout, considering that you had written an article against them as well?
I had to. I was doing things that were Hindutva. I got Kailash Mansarovar opened. I made the man who ordered the opening of the lock of Babri Masjid a High Court judge as the (then) law minister. Azam Khan would allege to Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was then part of the Janata Party, I was an RSS agent while I was attacked by swayamsevaks, too. I was constantly being called a CIA agent by the (RSS) cadres and Vajpayee himself. If you go through the December 1980 parliamentary proceedings, I had raked him over the coals because he had given an interview saying that as foreign minister he had come across documents that I was a CIA agent. Finally he said he had never said it, which was a lie because it (the interview) was tape-recorded; he was doing these background briefings.
That article is often cited to establish you are politically inconsistent.
That is the Congress’s doing. If I were to take out what JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) said about the RSS; I have not said even one-tenth of that. They have held demonstrations against him near his house. But the RSS never opposed me throughout. As they kept their word, they said, ‘When the time comes, we will ask you to come and rejoin us.’ That’s exactly what happened in 2005. And they told me, ‘Despite all the attacks on us, you never wavered off the Hindutva agenda.’
Finally in 2014, people were speculating that you would be fielded as a candidate, maybe from New Delhi.
I was. I had already been told. Out of the blue, Mr (Arun) Jaitley — I don’t mind you quoting me on that — suddenly asked the (BJP’s) election committee to be reconvened at 10 o’clock in the night on the last day before nominations, when I was about to go the next day to file the nominations, to say that ‘in New Delhi, we need a Punjabi’. What happened to all my anti-corruption campaign? What happened to all my Hindutva? There was no time left for anybody (to file nominations). And his (Jaitley’s) position at the time was enormously powerful — it has weakened of late — and he got me cut out.
Then the party president gave me an assurance that ‘when the first Rajya Sabha (seat) comes up, it will be given to you’. Not given! Then when the ministry was being formed, I was called the night before that ‘tomorrow you will be called by Narendra Modi as finance minister’. I won’t tell you who told me, but they are about as high as they come, and they would not normally tell me; it happened in the night, and it was all over the newspapers that Swamy was going to be the finance minister.
So, in this uncertain scenario, how much of support do you expect in the cases against corruption that you are fighting?
I don’t want any support. Let me tell you one thing. I have known Narendra Modi since 1972. Despite all that has happened to me, I still believe that his heart is in the right place. And we need him. So you will never find me going against Modi, unless the first strike is Modi’s. And that strike won’t be not giving me a parliamentary seat; that won’t matter. I mean, that may make me angry, but it won’t matter as far as he is concerned — because I know if everybody supports (me), he will support (me, too). I like him. He is a good man. Therefore, I really don’t need any help from him. He knows what I am doing and he is appreciative of the fact that I have not done what Arun Shourie did or Ram Jethmalani did. I have a greater cause because I contributed to the victory.
But without any kind of state support, you couldn’t win most of the cases that you have fought against the Nehru-Gandhi family.
No, no, that is not true. I won every case against them. These are propaganda these Congress people do and you people, without verification, accept what the Congress says. Basically, journalists are more comfortable with the people who have a, what shall I say, flexible social attitude.
I will quote you verbatim, rest assured.
I’ll tell you. First thing (about his attacks on Sonia) was their educational qualification. I made that argument and what happened? She (Sonia Gandhi) said it was a typing mistake. I only said to the Supreme Court that this was the longest typing mistake in the history of the world; please include it in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Chief Justice (of India) pleaded to me, ‘Dr Swamy, it’s a stale matter now; be generous, forget about it; she won’t say it again.’ And look at her affidavit of 2004, and see her affidavit of 2006 and 2009. She fought a by-election also after that. She had to correct it.
Yes, her affidavits are different on these dates.
Yes, I won.
And then Rahul Gandhi’s educational qualifications?
But I have not gone to court on that.
The New Indian Express produced a story.
I know about that certificate. I know about it. Let me finish this passport thing, then.
So let’s come to Backops. What is the case?
The case is this much: that the documents presented by the company incorporated in Britain (shows) Rahul Gandhi as the company secretary besides being a director. As the company secretary, you are responsible for all the documents also; as a director, you are not. He is the company secretary; he files documents. At the time of incorporation, they say that he is an Indian citizen. It is disclosed by him that he is an Indian citizen. The company is incorporated in 2003. In the first year, that is 2004, he originally says ‘British citizen’, but somebody has scratched it up, I don’t know who, and put ‘Indian’. Then in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and in the company’s dissolution proceedings, in all these five years, he says that he is a citizen of Britain — ‘British nationality’.
Now, the explanation is not being given by him. It is only being given by the Congress that this was a ‘typing mistake’. I don’t understand how it can happen year after year. I don’t have to prove anything. I have produced the documents filed by him under his signature.
The issue is that he has to explain (the discrepancy). A typing mistake cannot be accepted. Make full disclosure of all the documents you have filed.
Now he is in a dilemma. If he proves that he is an Indian citizen, then he is subject to prosecution under the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) and PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act). Besides, there is the Ethics Committee of the Lok Sabha that can proceed against him for not disclosing this in his election returns. And if he doesn’t, his citizenship goes.
I have also seen an old video of yours which was recorded before the 2014 elections where you said that when he was born, Sonia Gandhi was still an Italian citizen.
Yeah! That’s right. And she made her son an Italian citizen. I have not been able to get that passport yet.
See, getting a passport is not difficult. I must have it attested like these British documents — they are all attested as genuine. And the British (authorities) have also issued a statement that the documents are genuine, but the registrar of companies, which they call Company House, doesn’t take the responsibility of verifying the entries. So it is he who has to explain why he filed company documents as a British national.
Recently the Bihar elections were held and the BJP-led NDA lost it. It is being said that if the Modi government had pursued all cases of corruption against the Congress-led UPA, especially the Congress, by now these leaders would be licking their wounds rather than getting together and putting up a united fight.
I agree 100 per cent.
So, why was this government dithering on it?
This was Mr Jaitley’s strategy: ‘Be nice to them!’ See, in the very beginning I had told Modi, when Jaitley was saying ‘be nice to them’, one of the reasons for keeping me out was that I was the red rag before a bull. Jaitley opposed my entry into the BJP; it was Nitin Gadkari…
Can I quote you on that?
Yes, of course. Jaitley opposed my entry into the BJP. It was Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and, of course, the RSS that put their foot down. He (Jaitley) raised the issue of my criticism of Vajpayee also.
Nitin Gadkari said, ‘What about our criticism of him? Are we going to talk all our lives about the past?’ When the wife and the husband quarrel, they say awful things to each other; but then they forget about it, no?’
Jaitley’s view was always… and he told me that so openly — he didn’t hide it — ‘Your style of fighting with Sonia is different from our style, and I don’t think you fit into the BJP.’ He has been holding that view.
I have been saying that these people (the Dynasty) are the most ungrateful people born on earth. The nicer you are to them, they think it is because it is their fundamental right that you be nice to them. They will not be grateful. They will not be reconciled to our coming to power. There are international forces like the international Christian community and this coalition of NGOs who don’t like us — because we represent a different stream.
And if we manage to unite the Hindus, what is left in an election? We are 80 per cent. If even half of it unites, we’ve got it made. This time, 31 per cent gave us an absolute majority.
So, are you hopeful that in the coming three years, before the tenure of this particular government ends, the corrupt would be cut to size?
Well, if the present non-aligned policy of Modi continues, of fighting corruption, we will have them all finished off.
What is this non-aligned policy?
Modi doesn’t try to protect the corrupt at the behest of some of my colleagues. Ever since Bihar and the stalling of Parliament, he is convinced what I had said is right. At least that is what I think. He hasn’t said a word of the kind to me like ‘you were right and I was wrong’ or ‘I was misled’ or whatever, but I can see from the movements that he has now become non-aligned; he doesn’t allow anybody to use any influence.
(Editor’s note: Many of the claims and statements contained in this interview are unverifiable as some of the people mentioned – Rajiv Gandhi among them – are not around. Swarajya can neither vouch for them nor refute them).