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Vijaya Pushkarna
Vijaya Pushkarna


Twitter and the tweeter

32Twitterandthetweeter Illustration: Jairaj T.G.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will have a tough time reining in Subramanian Swamy

Three days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi, live on national television, heaped praise on the patriotism and style of functioning of RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan on June 27, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy received a call from Amit Shah. The BJP president, it is learned, told Swamy to drop out of a scheduled programme in Mumbai. Tell them you can't come on account of heavy rains, he told Swamy.

One of India's most irrepressible politicians, Swamy is often described as a loose cannon. In Mumbai, he was supposed to talk about the Emergency, but the party leadership did not trust him; he could fire at leaders within the party. Earlier that day, Shah, said party sources, had made it clear that Swamy was not to be asked to address public functions, and no one was to invite or organise one for him.

The trigger, seemingly, was his nasty personal comment about Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's western outfit while on a foreign trip. However, it was not the only one. Swamy also used his current weapon—Twitter—to undermine and insult Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian and Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das. He questioned the former's loyalty to India and suggested that the latter helped Congress leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram grab land in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu. As is Swamy's wont, he said he would have to dig out the details.

As an angry Jaitley defended the officials and gave it to Swamy, the political gadfly said: “I speak to the prime minister and the party president directly.” And, then came an ominous tweet—“People giving me unasked for advice of discipline and restraint don't realise that if I disregard discipline there would be a blood bath.” It was this that made Shah call him. Swamy, however, has rubbished suggestions of such a call, and said no one had asked him not to participate in the function, “much less the party president”.

It was a no-brainer that Swamy, once a teacher at Harvard, was not only targetting NRI academics in the government—like Subramanian—but was also hitting out at Jaitley. Swamy, who has at times made reckless statements about Jaitley, told his circle of friends that he was the most suitable candidate for Jaitley's job. What irked him about Jaitley, according to his friends, was the belief that the latter represented the same kind of Lutyens' Delhi politics embodied by the Congress. And, with his network across the political divide, Jaitley could get things done.

Swamy's statements, along with the court cases he has filed and monitored meticulously, have given the impression that he has blessings of the BJP and the RSS. His diatribes against the Gandhis, particularly Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whom he once called a foreign spy, have suited the saffron party. Earlier, as the president of a tiny Janata Party, Swamy had filed a criminal complaint against former telecom minister A. Raja in the 2G case. He also filed a case against the Gandhis, alleging that they grabbed real estate belonging to the National Herald. Both cases hit the Congress hard before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

A senior BJP leader, on condition of anonymity, said: “He did it for his own satisfaction. It was a happy coincidence that we gained a lot by way of ammo to attack the Congress. We neither asked nor authorised him to file those cases, they were not on behalf of the BJP”. Similar, he said, was the case of attacking the Gandhis, “which our leaders have been doing, and continue to do. It was not like we shied away and he did it for us. It's not like he did the BJP a favour.” Though Swamy is part of the BJP, not everyone in the party thinks of him as a great leader.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, too, denied asking or encouraging Swamy to take any position on its behalf. Manmohan Vaidya, the all-India prachar pramukh of the RSS, told THE WEEK: “If we have to say something, I will say it. Why should anyone else speak for us? We have not authorised him or anyone else to speak on behalf of the Sangh.” He also made it clear that the RSS, too, saw Swamy as a loose cannon.

Though Modi did not intervene, he has, in closed-door meetings of the party, suggested that members shouldn't say anything outside Parliament just to grab headlines. And, at the national executive meeting in Allahabad on June 12 and 13, Modi gave BJP members a few suggestions on how to conduct themselves. “Whether it is someone from my party or not, I believe such things are inappropriate,” he told the television channel. “The nation won't benefit from such publicity stunts. They should be more responsible while conducting themselves. Anyone who believes he is bigger than the system is wrong.”

Although Modi did not name Swamy, he as good as told him to shut up. Swamy's subsequent tweet was a brazen response. He spoke of equanimity, and the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita, wherein Krishna urged Arjuna to fight the war without worrying about happiness or sorrow, gain or loss, victory or defeat. “Both the party president and the prime minister have made their minds known. They have cut him to size. He will be on watch. This is a sufficient first step,” said party sources.

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