In the latest issue of Tehelka magazine, Ashok Malik has a profile of the “irrepressible” Subramanian Swamy, the maverick economist-politician behind the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
“There’s an old story about Subramanian Swamy that even if apocryphal and probably untrue still merits retelling simply because it’s part of urban folklore in Lutyens’ Delhi.
“One day, a powerful editor with a blackmailing tendency walked into Swamy’s basement office in his south Delhi residence, and threw a sheaf of papers on the table.
“‘Dr Swamy,’ he thundered, ‘I have a file on you.’
“Unperturbed, Swamy reached out for a folder in his bottom drawer, placed them on the desk and said, calmly, with the chilling certitude so typical of his voice, ‘Mr Editor, I have a file on you’.”
Swamy, who is currently seeking to re-enter Parliament through the BJP, brought down the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 1998 by getting arch-rivals Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha to drink tea together; another matter of course that Sonia is now a prime target of Swamy and Jayalalitha’s recent court appearances are based on a Swamy plea.
“At the end of the day, Swamy is trusted by few but ignored by even fewer. He can plug into extremely diverse social groups — serious economists, the loony right, the Janata parivar, the TamBrahm fraternity. He can hold both Ram Setu and N. Ram [the Marxist editor-in-chief of The Hindu] close to his heart (or profess to).
“For all his right-wing politics, the Hindu has been a loyal platform and publisher. His dogs have come from N. Ram’s litter, as indeed have Sonia Gandhi’s dogs — but that’s another contradiction, for Swamy to spin another day.”
Elsewhere, Swamy becoming persona non grata for Harvard thanks to his newspaper columns provides occasion for James Fallows, the national correspondent of The Atlantic Monthly, to recount the role played by Swamy in his getting into journalism:
“In the late 1960s, I had been a freshman at Harvard, ready to study around the clock in preparation for medical school. To earn extra money I had signed up as an ad salesman for the Crimson, and during the unbelievably bleak and frigid January “reading period” of my sophomore year, I was in the newspaper’s office one night, laying out an ad dummy for the next day’s paper.
“All the regular writers and editors were gone, cramming before final exams to make up for the courses they had skipped through the semester. So when a variety of fire alarms and sirens started going off, for what proved to be a big fire at the Economics Department building, I was the one on hand to run out after grabbing a camera and a reporter’s notebook.
“I had seen snow only once in my life before going to college; and in my high school jobs, manning smudge pots in the local Southern California orange groves on “cold” nights, we would trade tales about whether human beings could actually survive exposure to temperatures that dipped below 32F. But at the Economics Department, it was so cold — well below 0 F back in those pre-warming days — that the Cambridge Fire Department had trouble putting out the fire: water from the hoses would freeze in the air.
“I saw an upset-looking gentleman alongside me watching the fire. I asked why he was there. He said that all the notes and research for his current book, inside that building, was literally going up in smoke. That was Subramanian Swamy, then a young economics instructor. I wrote up his story in the paper — my first story for the Crimson, and the beginning of my shift from the ad staff (and pre-med) to the news staff.”
Let the record show that Swamy’s daughter Suhasini Haidar is a journalist with CNN-IBN; his sister-in-law Coomi Kapoor is a consulting editor with the Indian Express as is her husband Virendra Kapoor, a former editor of the Free Press Journal.
Let the record also show that James Fallows had narrated this story in 1996 at a commencement address at the Meddill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Photograph: courtesy Shailendra Pandey/ Tehelka