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The Telegraph
| Sunday, October 12, 2014 |
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Giant killer

He was not just instrumental in getting former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa indicted in the disproportionate assets case. Subramanian Swamy has made a career of felling frontline politicians by lodging court cases against their misdeeds. Debaashish Bhattacharya profiles the 75-year-old enfant terrible of Indian politics

  • Dog love: Subramanian Swamy with his pet, Kiky. Pictures by Debaashish Bhattacharya

Call him destiny's child. Subramanian Swamy, the 75-year-old enfant terrible of Indian politics, firmly believes in destiny. Destiny has always played a key role in his life, he thinks. He was destined to bring down the late Karnataka chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde in the phone-tapping scandal in the late 1980s, former telecom minister A. Raja in the 2G-spectrum scam and now J. Jayalalithaa, till recently Tamil Nadu chief minister. In all the three cases, Swamy was the prime mover, the main petitioner.

I am meeting him at his Nizamuddin East house in New Delhi at 10am on the seventh of this month, which happens to be a Tuesday — just as I did four years ago. In 2010, I had interviewed him at the same Nizamuddin East house on a Tuesday on the seventh of the month at 10 in the morning, although this was in December. Coincidence or destiny?

When I point this out to him, Swamy, dressed in his trademark white kurta and pyajama, chuckles. He says he has always "functioned on" the premise that destiny dictates human lives. And that's precisely why he "never gets disappointed" when something goes wrong.

Not even when he failed to find his name on the list of ministers in the Narendra Modi Cabinet? "There were expectations. But it didn't happen," he replies. Had he been prepared for this? "It's not a question of being prepared or not. I had led the anti-corruption campaign and so everybody assumed I would be a minister. I never asked for it," he says.

But given a choice, the former Harvard economics professor would have liked to be India's finance minister. "I am an economist by training. So, obviously, if there is a ministry I should serve, it should be finance, nothing else," Swamy says.

"My philosophy is, I do what I want to do. The outcome is destiny, as the Gita says." When I press him further about his ministerial aspirations, he bristles. "Are you a psychoanalyst? It seems you are more disappointed than I am."

On that morning, Swamy looks refreshed. He started his day at 4am as usual by reciting for 45 minutes the mantras of his guru, whom he won't name. He has already done his morning round of yoga and has taken an hour-long walk in a nearby park, shadowed by an automatic-toting plainclothesman. He has had Z-plus security since 1993, following threats to his life. He was once the target of the LTTE and is now the target of Islamic militants, whom he rips apart.

Back in his study, Swamy's seven-year-old golden retriever Kiky sits at my feet. Swamy gets dwarfed by the dog when she rises on her hind legs. "I love dogs but I have never had more than one. They need affection and you can be affectionate to one only," he says.

His cellphone trills every now and then and he tells callers that he will soon have to leave for the Supreme Court to file a petition in the defamation cases the former Tamil Nadu chief minister has filed against him.

Court cases take up much of his time these days. He argues his cases himself, though he does take legal advice from his wife Roxna, a Supreme Court lawyer. His study on the ground floor of his house is lined with shelves packed with law books. "I have other books in a basement room but I hardly have time for them nowadays," Swamy confesses.

Politically, Swamy and Jayalalithaa have shared a somewhat tumultuous "on-again-off-again" relationship over the years.

In some ways, the former Janata Party leader, who merged his party with the BJP when he joined it in August 2013, says he "likes" Jayalalithaa. "She is an intelligent woman. She suffered a lot in the cinema world and then poverty hit her," he says. But when she "picked a fight" with him, Swamy says he had no option but to "fight back".

In 1996, Swamy filed the corruption case against Jayalalithaa in a sessions court in Tamil Nadu. He subsequently filed a few more cases against her. "She has now been convicted of those charges I brought against her," he says.

Oddly enough, Swamy's Janata Party forged an alliance with Jayalalithaa's AIADMK in Tamil Nadu a year later in 1997, a tie that lasted till 2000. Predictably, some critics regard him as a political opportunist.

But he defends what happened. "It was a political decision. I was dealing with a bigger enemy in DMK's M. Karunanidhi who was in power then. So if Jayalalithaa was agreeable to an alliance with me, why should I oppose it?" he asks, adding that he'd made it clear then to the AIADMK leader that he was not going to withdraw the cases against her.

Defining Subramanian Swamy is not easy. His supporters laud him as an anti-corruption crusader; his detractors slam him as a publicity hound who likes to fish in troubled waters. Whatever the case, Swamy clearly thrives on controversy.

With Jayalalithaa lodged in jail, Swamy believes he has emerged as a threat to several politicians he has been trying to expose. "I am exposing them, ruining their political careers," exclaims Swamy, who gave up teaching at Harvard in 2012 to be a full-time politician. "I have more problems with politicians trying to kill me. They don't like me to investigate them. Even the home ministry knows this," he says.

Swamy thinks that many people "speak from both sides of their mouths" when it comes to him. "If I go only after the Opposition, they call it political vendetta. But If I go after my own party, as I did against Ramakrishna Hegde, they call me untrustworthy. It is useless to listen to criticism because they will criticise anything you do," he maintains.

With Jayalalithaa behind bars, the former Union law and commerce minister is now busy gunning for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald newspaper case he filed a few months ago, accusing them of profiting from the closed newspaper building, among others. The Congress president and vice-president have denied the allegations.

"I waited 18 years to see Jayalalithaa convicted. I could now wait half that, to see the mother and son convicted," he says.

Another case he wants to pursue is the death of Sunanda Puskar, the wife of Congress MP from Kerala, Shashi Tharoor. "It was not a natural death. There are reasons to suspect there was foul play," he says, adding the Union home minister Rajnath Singh assured him in a letter that the government would pursue this. "If they don't, I will," he says.

Swamy, who did his MA in statistics from Indian Statistical Institute near Calcutta in 1962 before doing a PhD in economics from Harvard, feels "sad about the sorry state of affairs" in Bengal, a state he says he was proud of for its culture and leadership.

"I have always admired Mamata Banerjee for driving the Communists from Bengal. But it now seems that Islamic militants are gaining ground in Bengal under her regime while her party indulges in politics of appeasement. Her party is also neck-deep in the Saradha scam. It's time the chief minister was brought to book," he says grimly.

Hit list

• Moved the Supreme Court against former telecom minister A. Raja for wrongdoings in the allocation of 2G licences. Raja was arrested by the CBI in February 2011.

• In 1996 filed a case accusing J. Jayalalithaa of amassing properties disproportionate to her income during her tenure as Tamil Nadu chief minister (1991-1996).

Jayalalithaa was convicted on September 27, 2014, and had to step down as CM.

• Exposed Ramakrishna Hegde, the late Janata Party leader and then chief minister of Karnataka, in a phone tapping scandal in the late 1980s. Hedge resigned.

• Accused Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi of criminal breach of trust in the National Herald case. The newspaper was once run by the Congress.

• Wants to expose the mystery behind the death of Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. The death was a result of foul play, he says.