Subramanian Swamy is like the dark chocolates in an assortment, some are hard and chewy, while some are soft-centred or sweet, Swamy can be all of these. He is hard and chewy as an opponent, soft-centred to his friends and sweet to his dogs; around the world, dark chocolate is considered better for you and a more sophisticated taste.
Before I met Subramanian Swamy for the first time, I was informed that he had impeccable manners and that he was very fussy about politeness and correct etiquette, all this giving me the impression he might be a rather scary character. Our first meeting was at his family home over tea and halwa, I was a little bit nervous but Dr Swamy was welcoming and immediately launched into an introduction of himself.
Subramanian Swamy was born at sunrise on 15 September 1939 under the star of Hasta. His father Sitaram was the Director of the Central Statistical Organisation of India and a mathematician. His mother Padmavathi was the daughter of a policeman who married at fourteen, she was/is the source of his strength. Padmavathi’s unconditional love for and support of young Swamy’s ambitions gave him the confidence to become the man we know today. I believe his relationship with his mother is why he is so comfortable with and promoting of women; he has said his mother was a determined woman, who even learnt English from a book so she could write to him in English at Harvard. Padmavathi was also in some respects his tutor and introduced him to the revolutionary reign and theories of Mao Zedong, henceforth China has been a theme running throughout his career.
Swamy was educated at Hindu College in Delhi, Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata and Harvard University in the US on a full scholarship PhD in Economics. Swamy’s original aspirations did not tend towards politics, after graduating he lent toward academia becoming a Professor first at Harvard, then following a hiccup about the Chair of Chinese Studies at the Delhi School of Economics he became Professor of Mathematical Economics at IIT, he always was and still is very studious. Maths, economics, transparency, and accuracy are in his blood.
Like his father who dared to confront Prime Minister Nehru, Swamy is not afraid of confrontation. I might go as far as to say he enjoys an argument as he has the skills of a barrister when arguing a point, like many in the judiciary he does not suffer fools or fakes gladly. He has a razor-sharp wit, which can occasionally cut to the quick, but he is loyal and generous with his friendship and wisdom.
Notwithstanding his academic early years, Swamy soon embraced politics with Indian characteristics, his advocacy was for free markets and the rule of law, his blend of cultural conservatism and liberal economic ideas have made him both popular and controversial. Nevertheless, he rapidly established a reputation as a formidable leader and opponent. He knows India North to South and East to West; he speaks four languages fluently and can get by in several others thanks to the many Sanskrit words they hold.
His political biography is wide-ranging and impressive, beginning with Sarvodaya, the people’s movement begun by J.P. Narayan (JPN), whom he met at Harvard in 1968. Post Harvard, Swamy undertook a sabbatical in rural areas in an attempt to persuade landlords to donate a piece of land to the poor; unsurprisingly he had to report to JPN that for this mission to be successful Sarvodaya needed political clout. It took three years for JPN to come back in agreement, and when Dr Swamy became an MP with Jan Sangh in 1974 he took JPN around India with him but never persuaded JPN to join Jan Sangh or any other organisation. Thanks to Swamy, the RSS provided a nominee for General Secretary of the Jan Sangh and this provided the organisation the JPN anti-corruption movement that turned India against Indira Gandhi and toppled the Emergency.
Swamy has been a Minister with a double portfolio twice and been official or unofficial advisor to six Prime Ministers. His experience in law, commerce, labour standards, and international trade, is pretty comprehensive by anyone’s reckoning. He has been in the Lok Sabha three times and this is his third stint in the Rajya Sabha.
He attributes his basic knowledge of the law to his Parsi in-law P.R.Vakil and later his learned wife Roxna, a lawyer, who taught him how to file public interest litigations. Swamy is no stranger in the courts, I think it is fair to say he is driven by injustice. His fearsome intelligence, unrivalled ability, and aggressive perseverance to justify his point are legendary. By the way, this ability to debate extends from the courtroom and into his political and private life, he is quite comfortable thrashing out differences of opinion with politicos, friends, and family. When agreement cannot be reached, he cordially accepts and respects the difference of opinion without umbrage.
I have previously written about his meeting with the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and other leaders. I have also written about the various exciting episodes in his political career and the one thing that strikes me is the consistency of his mission, what it means to be a Hindu. Swamy is both popular and populist, interacting with 10.3 million Twitter followers, reaching out through TV shows, and the VHS network to his supporters. On many issues, he is the voice of much of the nationalist population and it is remarkable how he is prepared to help expecting no reward across so many situations. After ages of being a politician, he is a pragmatist and a strategist, extraordinarily well connected and best of all accessible, which is how over the years I have come to know more about him.