by Vipin Pubby
The headlines that emerged after prime minister Narendra Modi’s 85 minute interview to a private Television channel, his first since he took over as PM, pertained to his rap on the knuckles to the maverick new party Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy without actually naming him.
The interview left a couple of critical questions on the issue unanswered and also sent out mixed signals. Was the rap too mild and too late. Would Modi have reacted in the same way if any other MP had made statements, which Swamy made and would have allowed him to get away so lightly. Was it too late as the country had lost the services of a leading economist as the RBI governor with an impeccable record and had ruffled the feathers of Finance Minister Arun Jaitely who is considered close to Modi and third in the government hierarchy.
Swamy’s comments were obviously the immediate provocation for the interview. He had first taken on Rajan by questioning his nationalism alleging that “mentally he is not fully an Indian” and had later reacted sharply to the response from Jaitely on his comment that public figures should exercise restraint. Jaitely too had taken to Twitter after Swamy had named his Chief Economic Adviser in a Tweet. Jaitely wrote that it was “An unfair and false attack on a disciplined civil servant in the Finance Ministry”.
Reacting to it, Swamy boasted that he did not care what Jaitely had said and claimed that he has direct access to Modi and the party chief Amit Shah. He told reporters “Jaitely ji kya bole, kya nahin bole iss se mujhe kya lena dena (What do I care what Jaitely said or not said).
He then went on to lampoon Jaitely by commenting that Indian leaders dressed in western attire, when they go abroad, looked like ‘waiters’. He made the statement on a day when suit-clad photographs of Jaitely, who was abroad, were published in the newspapers. A fuming Jaitely cut short his China visit and is believed to have met Modi to seek justice.
It is well known that Swamy enjoys proximity to top leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the organisation was behind his nomination for the Upper House. That’s why observers are looking at the controversy as a tussle between Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on the one side and the RSS on the other. A similar tussle between RSS and former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was witnessed during his tenure at the top job. Though the BJP and its leaders follow the ideology of the RSS, and in fact have their roots in RSS, there has always been a turf war between the two when the BJP is in power.
Swamy had woven his way close to the RSS leadership by constantly hammering at the political rivals Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Robert Vadra. He had been levelling wild allegations against them. It had suited the RSS and the BJP.
Swamy’s latest attack on Jaitely and his finance ministry was obviously not an isolated or unintended diatribe. It was a well thought out plan intended to provoke Jaitely as well as Modi.
Swamy’s proximity to Nagpur also explains why Modi had been rather mild in his criticism and had refrained from naming him. He merely called the comments as inappropriate and a “publicity stunt”. He added that “anyone who believes he is bigger than the system is wrong” evidently sending a message to Swamy.
He also took his party MP, again without naming him, to task for suggesting that Raghuram Rajan was not patriotic. “Rajan’s patriotism is no less than any of ours…..those who speak such language are doing great injustice to him” he said and declared that he appreciated the contributions made by the outgoing RBI governor. Though the rap to Swamy was considered too mild, it appears to have placated Jaitely and had silenced Swamy for a while but Swamy is not the one to lie low for long. Humiliating people has been his forte. Given his reputation as a rabble rouser he is likely to prove a thorn in the flesh of the Modi Government. Watch this space for more news emanating from him.
RSS has sought to distance itself from the perception that it was backing Swamy on the issue. A senior RSS leader, who declined to be named, told a newspaper (TOI) that “RSS will communicate directly with the government on any issue. We don’t need a proxy for any purpose”.
Swamy tweeted on Wednesday : ” I have said before and saying now : Come hell or high water I stand by Modi. I admire his spine. No foreign power can buckle him” (sic)