A 'heroic' Subramanian Swamy & a 'malicious' Vajpayee: Roxna Swamy's book doesn't disappoint
“Evolving with Subramanian Swamy - A roller coaster ride”, the book on BJP's rabble-rouser par excellence penned by his wife Roxna Swamy is certain to not disappoint his most ardent fans and critics.
Replete with anecdotes and political encounters, the book chronicles Swamy’s journey from a academician in the US to an anti-Emergency crusader, only for it to end with his becoming the country’s most illustrious maverick.
The Vajpayee years
While most of the bile in the book is directed towards former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Roxna has also recounted Swamy’s friendship with late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. More so, it also delves into his numerous encounters with defamation cases.
Talking about Swamy becoming the first Rajya Sabha member to be expelled in 1976 for conduct “derogatory to the dignity of the House and its members”, Roxna writes that it revealed Vajpayee’s character.
“Swamy’s expulsion showed me how small, mean, envious and malicious a man was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the parliamentary leader of Jan Sangh," she writes.
“I told him how shocked I was by his refusal to support Swamy, who had sacrificed so much…Vajpayee was defiant. He expressed himself angered by Swamy’s 'wrongdoing' which he said, was damaging the credibility of Jan Sangh."
“Swamy’s wrongdoing was that he signed for and collected some Rs 400 or Rs 500 daily allowance by claiming to have attended parliament on the day immediately before and after parliament met in June 1975. The amount may be small, but it is corruption, he stated piously,” she writes, about her confrontation with Vajpayee after the expulsion.
“…It soon became clear that this was only a catspaw: internally Vajpayee was seething because anyone could see the contrast between Swamy’s heroic and selfless struggle for which he had sacrificed his family’s wellbeing and comfort and Vajpayee’s self-indulgence in the arms of the family of his foster daughter."
“The man has known all along that Swamy is the better man; and he has done all he can to victimise him and keep him out,” she writes, in the chapter dealing with Swamy’s expulsion."
She writes that despite the RSS knowing “Swamy was blameless”, it fall in line with Vajpayee and kept “Swamy cut off from his natural allies”.
However, she admits that Vajpayee was not alone and it was rather a norm to crush an emerging rival.
“As long as an “aspirant” “knows his place” and does not do anything to threaten another politician’s ascendancy, he will be tolerated, even advanced. But the slightest independent advancement - even if it is for the common goal - brings out the meanest streak in the insecure second rater; and then everything must be done to crush the supposed emerging rival. Why single out Vajpayee, when his behaviour is the norm among so many!" she writes.
The author also uses Vajpayee's visit to China as India's external affairs minister in Morarji Desai's cabinet China in February 1979 to highlight the animosity between the two leaders.
“Swamy’s activities in and around the first Janata regime, too upset Vajpayee. He was external affairs minister and one area he wanted to shine in was as the developer of friendly relations between India and China. Unfortunately, for his ambitions, this was an area in which Swamy had already established himself," she writes.
Comparing Swamy visit to China to that of Vajpayee’s, she writes that the latter’s visit turned out to be a “disaster”.
She claimed the “hosts took very seriously Swamy’s interest in developing friendly relations between India and China” whereas they were “set about humiliating Vajpayee during his trip”.
“His (Vajpayee’s) airplane was made to develop some trouble or the other and the Chinese expressed themselves quite unable to quickly produce a replacement, so Vajpayee was kept hanging around for some days in his hotel room.
“Worse still while he was in China an armed conflict between china and north Vietnam arose and Vajpayee had to cut short his visit,” she writes.
The book also says that after BJP came into being, Vajpayee, the party’s unchallenged leader, “made it clear that he would not tolerate the presence of Swamy in BJP”.
“It was not just Swamy but two “disciplined” RSS functionaries had to go to “Vanvas” whom Vajpayee regarded as possible rivals - Jan Sangh veteran Nanaji Deshmukh and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh founder Dattopant Thengadi.
She writes that most of RSS friends and their families walked out on the Swamys.
“With Vajpayee’s ukase all the simple warmth with RSS friends was cut off. And so peremptorily and decisive that for instance, when in 1982 Swamy and I went to cast our votes in assembly elections in Bombay north east constituency, we discovered that even friends and party workers who had always safeguarded our election cards, made all sorts of excuses but would not give us the election cards or even tell us which booths we were registered at.
“It was almost like being thrown out of a medieval cast set up with “ hookah pani bandh”.
It’s not just Vajpayee, the book also trains guns on his “sidekicks”.
“Youths with nothing much more than an education, a couple of sets of spare clothes on a string clothes line and a “khatiya” in the corner of an RSS Karyalaya: and it has pained me to see them metamorphise under Vajpayee’s tutelage and example, into enormously wealthy and powerful individuals, but touts bereft of their earlier moral moorings and often vicious habits".
A difficult uphill battle
She also writes that even after Vajpayee suffering a stroke in 2009, animosity against Swamy in the BJP continued and was stoked by the former prime minister’s "sidekicks” and only after “herculean efforts” by a “more just RSS” Swamy was inducted back into BJP in 2013.
“Most recently I saw a Vajpayee-like ploy on Swamy slickly and effectively carried out by one such sidekick, now a power in his own right having slithered his way almost to the top of the greasy pole, without benefit of a single contested election win under his belt.
The book alleges that despite personal assurances from Delhi BJP president, Swamy was denied a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls from new Delhi in 2014, courtesy the “sidekick”.
‘…the sidekick saw to it that the ticket went elsewhere: on the insulting plea that the nation’s capital must be represented only by a Punjabi”- a true pupil of his master," she writes.
“Such snakes continue to live up to their Vajpayee training in malice and intrigue. They have never cared to cultivate and party cadres, preferring an excellent rapport with the Lutyens press, industrialist supporters of the BJP and even an understanding with the Congress."
“They have risen largely on the heft and goodwill of the BJP supremos, who appear to repose immense confidence in them. I have no cast iron basis for my take on this; but I do have a gut feeling that it is based on a flawed perception that such snakes can deliver the economic goods; and now, more than two years down the line, it is becoming very apparent that no such goods have been or indeed, can be, delivered by an over-promising and not particularly qualified snake."
“Besides, if Congress thought they could maintain a hold on the BJP government, through such friendly Trojan horses, they must, by now, be pretty disillusioned; and perhaps they will cease to support them from outside."
Roxna, however, does not name the "snake" she claims did Swamy down.
The book also describes the truncated Janata party, to be “a tank of crocodiles and crabs, each with his own sub crocodiles and sub crabs, with each person out to pull down every possible rival”.
“There were two kinds of leaders/crocodiles/crabs there then in the reduced Janata Party. The 'liberal' left wing, acceptable to the Delhi intelligentsia and parasites, included persons like Ramkrishna Hegde; the loaves and fishes of power and office were invariably considered by them to be theirs as of right: even if, as is the case in all major political parties it is the rural seats that provide most of the votes and seats, their representatives are expected to function as backbenchers, what the RSS used to refer to as the “persons who laid out the rugs and set up the microphones”. (For example our friend H D Deve Gowda with his mammoth farmer following simply could not compete with the intriguing Delhi-centric polished Hegde)," she writes.
The book chronicles how Vajpayee used party MP and senior advocate Ram Jethmalani against Swamy.
“Vajpayee now heading a new and rival political party, the BJP, nevertheless found in Swamy and his hints of Vajpayee’s drinking drugging and womanising habits, a thorn in the flesh; and he applied Jethmalani to put Swamy down,” writes Roxna, detailing how Jethamalani prodded the then Bombay mayor to file a criminal defamation case against Swamy over his remarks that “Pai was engaged in a prostitution racket”.
Roxna has dedicated an entire chapter to late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa and her relationship with Swamy that "veered crazily from one extreme to another”.
Giving details about how Jayalalithaa was enraged over Swamy initiating corruption cases against her filed several defamation cases against him through the Tamil Nadu chief secretary and narrates the attacks on Swamy and his party workers.
Stranger than fiction
Narrating one attack in June 1993, when a hostile crowd invaded the court where Swamy defamation proceedings were being held, Roxna writes how the Swamys fled to the airport and boarded a plane to Bangalore but their ordeal did not end even after that.
“What happened next was like something out of an improbable James Bond thriller. Unbelievably, balked of her prey, Jayalalithaa got the Madras Airport Control tower to recall the airplane in flight midair, just before it entered the jurisdiction of Bangalore Airport Control tower."
Swamy came to know to about through industrialist Vijaypat Singhania who was piloting the aircraft.
As the plane made an “emergency” landing in Madras, the Swamys made their way out of the emergency chute and holed up in a lounge before arrangements to a flight to Delhi was made later in the night.
On Rajiv Gandhi, Roxna writes that 1986 onwards a “cordial relationship sprang up” between the two but the Congress leader’s rapprochement with Swamy was not 100 % because of “sycophants”.
“Despite such sycophants, in his later days as Prime minister Rajiv, was often open to Swamy’s ideas and views; and sometimes even bucked his party line for Swamy," she writes.