Thursday, June 23, 2016

Modiji, How Do You Solve The Problem Like Subramanian Swamy?


The impending exit of Raghuram Rajan from the Reserve Bank this September seems to have emboldened Subramanian Swamy, the BJP's maverick Rajya Sabha MP, to take on more real or imagined "enemies". 

The latest to be targeted is Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian, with Swamy recalling an old statement of Subramanian to the US Congress seeking the penalisation of India for its pharma patents stand. Swamy also alleged, in another tweet, that the CEA was behind the Congress' hardening of stand on the goods and services tax (GST).

This time, however, he is unlikely to succeed for the simple reason that there is no particular animus in either the party or the PMO against the CEA. Unlike Rajan, who irritated the government with his quasi-political comments, Arvind Subramanian has been a model of restraint, never mind what he may have said or written before he became CEA. Not only that, Rajan was an appointee of the previous government; the CEA was appointed by the NDA government. If it had not liked him, it need not have appointed him at all.

Now, the Modi government has cause to worry. Subramanian Swamy is an unguided missile. He has had his uses when the government needed to take on Sonia Gandhi and the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, giving the government plausible deniability on his actions. But Swamy seems to revel in counting the number of scalps he has gathered, never mind whose scalp it is. This means, at some point, collecting scalps may be more important to him than party discipline. If left unchecked, he will end up damaging the government more than the opposition.

At 76, Swamy seems to be in a tearing hurry to make his mark as the scourge of anyone he chooses to make an enemy of. This served him well when, almost single-handedly, he went after the 2G scamsters in court, marking him out as a tenacious warrior against corruption. He took on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on corruption and was vindicated. He showed enormous political courage in taking on the murderous LTTE, when it was being mollycoddled by the Dravidian parties, and came up trumps. During the emergency, he was an intrepid fighter against Indira Gandhi's authoritarianism. He took on Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi when the entire media was reluctant to hold them accountable for any scam or wrongdoing. 

Not one to weigh his words carefully, Swamy is the exact opposite of the politically correct politician, calling people names and even abusing them on micro-blogging site Twitter, which is his preferred medium of diatribe.
He is now a prime advocate of Hindutva, and, more controversially, has promised to push for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. This has made him the darling of many "internet" Hindus, who now look on him as their general in the war against India's Left-Liberal Hinduphobes. He has helped free a key temple in Tamil Nadu from the clutches of the state government. And he has batted for Asaram Bapu, who has been accused in a molestation case, by treating this as an attack on Hindu gurus or saints.

When Modi came to power, Swamy had probably hoped for high office, but, denied that, he still managed to keep himself in the public eye by choosing other enemies to fight with.

Despite the heroism involved in some of his notable battles against corruption and the corrupt, Swamy seems keen to tilt at every windmill these days. His diatribe against Rajan was intensely personal and below-the-belt. Even though he won this skirmish, it left the government looking bad in the public eye.
And now he seems ready to launch into Arvind Subramanian.

The problem for the Modi government is that Swamy is both an asset (against the BJP's enemies) and a liability (when he turns against those he considers his internal enemies). There is some suspicion that Swamy's real target while going after Rajan, and now the CEA, is Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who seems to have the Prime Minister's confidence. 

While finance ministry sources are said to have dismissed Swamy's tweets against the CEA as being of no consequence, the chances are he may have damaged Subramanian's chances of becoming the next RBI Governor. He was one of the candidates being mentioned in this connection.

But the warning signs flashing for the government anyway. Swamy is a double-edged sword. If Modi does not rein him in, or give him other targets to focus his energies on, Swamy will start damaging the government just when it has managed to gain the upper hand with the Congress after the recent round of assembly elections.

Modi has to act before it is too late. 

No comments: