Vandita Mishra, Indian Express: It’s been a time of scams, real and imagined, the onus is firmly on politicians to prove their innocence, and no conspiracy theory appears too far-fetched. For one man who has never hesitated to fire in the dark, it’s a made-to-order season.
In his home-cum-office in the capital’s leafy enclave of Nizamuddin East, Subramanian Swamy, formerly MP and briefly Union minister, president of the virtually defunct Janata Party, most commonly described as a maverick by others and who himself claims the mantle of “true opposition” to the UPA, is enjoying a lip-smacking moment. “I have shown it is not necessary to be in Parliament to be active,” Swamy says. “In fact, in Parliament, there is no activity at all.”
Swamy is entitled to his glee. After all, letters he wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the 2G scam touched off a chain of events severely embarrassing to the ruling UPA, after the Supreme Court asked the prime minister to file a reply.
Those 2G letters famously found their mark but Swamy also stands by all those that didn’t. Of these, there are many.
For instance, Swamy’s most recent letter to the prime minister, dated May 4, which begins, “My usually reliable friends abroad, some of them my former French nationality students at Harvard, informed me that…” and goes on to allege that a member of Sonia Gandhi’s family was in St Tropez in southern France, “in the company of the notorious Quattrocchis, and other family members, discussing defence deals and the sequencing and parcelling of the huge bribes likely to be paid.”
Or, his letter to the PM just before that, dated April 29, in which he cites “enquiries from well-placed sources in your government regarding the decision already taken but not yet formalised” of “the choice of French planes for the Indian Air Force” to allege that “several conversations” between members of the extended Gandhi family and French first lady Carla Bruni played a role.
A selection of the letters Swamy has written over the last year and a half, mostly to the PM, reveals a range of subjects that agitate Swamy apart from the 2G scam. In a letter dated March 31, 2010, he asks the PM not to go ahead with “all these various misconceived and ill thought through dam projects” (on the Ganga), points out he has been recently appointed convener of the legal cell of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, will be in Hardwar the following month to participate in VHP programmes, and ends with a warning: “Hence an early reply from you would help me cool down the tempers among the sadhus and sanyasis who have gathered in lakhs for the Kumbh mela in Hardwar, and ready to resolve for a nationwide agitation”.
In other letters, he reiterates his opposition to the use of electronic voting machines, alleges corruption in foreign bank accounts and defence deals, and clubs together the “evil” that is “permeating in the country” like “terrorism, religious conversion and demographic infiltration”.
Several letters are devoted to Swamy’s perception of threat to his personal security — from the al-Qaeda and the LTTE, from “Communist and Muslim extremists” and from the Congress.
In a letter to the PM, dated November 22, 2010, Swamy begins: “I write to let you know of information of violence to be carried out against me by the Congress party.” Earlier, a letter to G K Pillai, home secretary, dated May 21, 2010, cites an FIR, still pending, regarding a Congress “attack” on him: “In 2006, on one visit to Rae Bareli and Lucknow, the Congress Party mobs nearly killed me.” And in a letter to the PM, marked “confidential/personal” and dated January 20, 2011, he says he has come to know of a “non-life threatening but disabling physical attack on me while I am going into or coming out of a public meeting in Tamil Nadu”.
On this last lot of letters, the always rampaging Swamy is uncharacteristically defensive: “I received a letter with a Srinagar postmark, signed al-Qaeda, and several letters from the LTTE. I haven’t asked for security, only for the PM to take necessary steps,” he says.
Evidently, Swamy’s spectres are varied and many, and in several of his letters, he makes startling accusations, without proof, against senior ministers in the UPA government, like P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal. But his real target for a long time has been, unwaveringly, Sonia Gandhi.
Since 1999, when Sonia contested for Parliament for the first time and won, and after which Swamy himself has contested Lok Sabha elections once and lost — he blames his own defeat on the EVM: “in 500 booths out of 1,500 in Madurai, I polled only 0 or 1-2 votes, that’s impossible!” — Swamy has used his letters as relentless sniper fire against Sonia and her family members in India and abroad.
Typically, the allegations are unsubstantiated. In the letters on Sonia and her family, however, Swamy seems to call for a yet greater leap of faith, a more willing suspension of disbelief. His reliance on insinuation and innuendo becomes even more striking.
In the letter dated November 22, 2010, Swamy directly blames a Gandhi for “orchestrating” the “rioting” Congressmen against him in Rae Bareli in 2006 — “the object was clearly murder” — and in the letter dated November 24, 2010, he alleges kickbacks in the 2G spectrum deal. In the same letter, in a paragraph peppered with dark references to “private jets provided by dubious Arab business interests” and felicitations in Dubai “by agencies of countries which are hostile to India including that of Pakistan”, Swamy goes on to insinuate as unlawful the “frequent travel of Sonia Gandhi and her immediate family to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Dubai and parts of Europe including London”.
Whether they are about Sonia or not, Swamy’s letters are densely peopled by those with “baneful influence” and “dubious connections”, those who conduct “nefarious activities” eventually to “effect a soft subversion of the Indian nation”. In fact, Swamy’s world, as revealed by his letters, swarms with unnamed people with ominous intent. A “senior law officer” a Union minister regularly confabulates with, “a telecom and conglomerate business tycoon (who is affected if the licences are cancelled and/or the trial is held fairly)”, an “escort service European girl provided by an Indian company” with which a Union minister “has had a formal fiduciary relation as a paid director”.
But it is the “foreigner” who appears most malevolent. A letter mentions the “sorry state of affairs in the country” caused by “overtly and covertly resident foreigners”; another demands the declaration as an “undesirable alien” of Ottavio Quattrocchi; yet another warns against “foreigners” who come and go out of India on unreported flights.
Swamy is not defensive on any of these counts — that he offers no proof for his allegations, that he peddles a fear of the “foreigner”, and that he targets Sonia Gandhi.
On the first, he says: “I am writing to the prime minister, I am not holding a press conference. The PM has agencies available to him, they can investigate. My job is to bring things to his notice.” Also, “They say I have no proof. Rubbish! As if on other things, they always have proof.”
On the charge of a touch of xenophobia, he retorts, “This country has suffered due to foreigners for a thousand years. We have to be careful. I am not anti-foreigner. I spend time in the US, the Chinese love me, Israelis are my very good friends. In Musharraf’s time, I was friends with Pakistanis too. But we need to be aware of the national security implications of letting down our guard. We can’t be too hospitable.”
Swamy is least apologetic or bashful when accused of Sonia-bashing. “I suspect her bona fides…” he begins and takes off predictably.
For Swamy, the future is uncomplicated: “I say corruption is the malaise and Hindutva the solution.” But despite his loud allegiance to Hindutva, he points out that he is not welcome in the BJP. Not just because “I am a threat to any established leadership”, but also because “a section of the BJP's leadership believes Sonia must be kept in good humour”.
After the 2G success in particular, people are scared of him, says Swamy. At last count, by his own reckoning, he had about 60 defamation cases filed against him, not counting the 100 cases filed by the AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa alone, which he calls the “Jayalalithaa bonanza”. But the man who once wrote a newspaper article on the art of fighting a defamation case is no longer afraid of being taken to court.
“People know the court is a platform for me. I have few expenses. My wife who is a lawyer prepares the papers for free.” File a defamation case against him, he dares, “and I will drag you in, make you stand in the witness box, cross examine you, tear you to pieces.”