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Who kept Swamy out of the BJP for 30 years?

By Roxna Subramanian Swamy
September 29, 2017 08:01 IST
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'The animosity in the BJP against Swamy continued for more than thirty years.'
'It was only after herculean efforts by a reconstituted and more just RSS that Swamy was finally inducted into the BJP in 2013.'
A fascinating account of Subramanian Swamy's years in the wilderness, by someone who saw it all upclose: His wife Roxna Subramanian Swamy.

IMAGE: Dr Subramanian Swamy, then with the Janata Party, addresses a rally in Gandhi Maidan, Patna, February 1984. Photograph: Archives

Subramanian Swamy was, is and will always be the stormy petrel of Indian politics.

Possibly among the most qualified Indian politicians -- how many can boast of a PhD from Harvard! -- he has been considered by his admirers as the best prime minister India never had.


And that must owe to his inability to suffer fools, and an extraordinary talent for speaking his mind -- which is not something politicians are known to do.

Which explains his stints in various political parties, fallout with associates, and implacable enmities.

Nothing epitomises it better than his tempestuous relationship with the RSS-Jan Sangh-BJP.

And who better to chronicle it than his wife, Roxna Subramanian Swamy, who has finally put down in book form what has been an extraordinary life:

In 1980, former Jan Sangh members split away from the Janata Party and formed a rival party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP).

(Atal Bihari) Vajpayee was, of course, the unchallenged leader of the BJP; and he made it clear that he would not tolerate the presence of Swamy in the BJP.

The RSS fell in line with Vajpayee with the result that Swamy, who had great faith in the RSS steadfastness, was let down.

A fellow member of Parliament, Shri Yagya Dutt Sharma, was sent to tell Swamy that they did not want Swamy in their new party and that if he wished to retain any goodwill in the BJP, he should be prepared for a long 'vanvas' in the boon docks.

'Vanvas', by the way, is a truly evocative Sanskrit phrase referring to the fourteen year exile that Shri Ramachandraji undertook.

The same 'vanvas' was offered to at least two other persons, close friends of Swamy, whom the jealous Vajpayee regarded as possible rivals: Nanaji Deshmukh (the organiser par excellence of the Jan Sangh and its powerful treasurer and liaison with the business world) and Dattopant Thengadi, (who had selflessly developed the Jan Sangh's labour wing, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh).

Nanaji and Dattopantji, two disciplined RSS workers since their boyhood, fell in line and left Delhi to work selflessly in the mofussil.

Swamy, who had no such constraints, continued defiant in the Janata Party.

The real sufferer was me who discovered that most of our RSS friends and their families with whom we had developed friendships over the years of togetherness simply walked out on us.

IMAGE: Dr Swamy in this photograph from November 1980. Photograph: Archives

To understand the extent of the loss one has to know and experience, (as we had done throughout the 1970s) the intimate ties and warm hospitality within Jan Sangh families.

India is huge and to keep in touch with the whole country, in any political party, there is much travel throughout the length and breadth of India; and in the Jan Sangh it was customary to put up visiting party workers in the homes of local party supporters. (I am told that this was also the custom in Congress families in the freedom struggle days).

It was not just that there were less streamlined hotels and guest houses available in those days; or that what was available would have been hard on the party's small budget; but this was also a wonderful way for like-minded people and families to get to know each other.

That Swamy, who had so much to educate party workers in, (especially because his views gelled with theirs), should have been made welcome in people's homes, might not have been so surprising.

But in those days I travelled a lot with Swamy; and even though it was not so usual for wives to turn up, and even though sometimes the welcoming committee was somewhat puzzled by Swamy's short tressed companion who did not wear bangles and a bindi, I was always welcomed and made to feel part of the family.

Whether it was Ujjain or Surat or Dharwad or Lucknow or Chandigarh or Bhavnagar or even Madras, it was so heartwarming to be welcomed and looked after in people's homes and to mingle with their wives, children and grandchildren.

One might think that I, with my rather anglicised ways and rather stilted Hindi and very little experience of the concerns and traditions of orthodox Hindu ladies, would have been looked at a little askance by my hostesses.

But it was not so: I made friends with these families and would meet them again and again wherever the Jan Sangh had its sessions, and exchange notes on children and grandchildren.

There were also regal families, like Rajmata Scindia and her children who had been unfailingly charming, kind and hospitable. Such bonds were further cemented during the dark Emergency years when I experienced their caring supervision.

I remember with deep affection Chamanlalji, my contact. He was a simple dedicated and sincere Swayamsevak who before Partition had brought up a whole generation of young lads in the North West Frontier Province and later in Delhi, all of whom remembered him with deep reverence.

I do not think he ever became their guru only because he had no intellectual pretensions at all: Some of his protegees later rose to high places but they never forgot their initial upbringing by him.

In his simple sincere, dedicated, selfless way, he represented to me the best of the RSS system -- I do not believe that the Communist or Maoist cadres, with their cold commissar outlook no matter how dedicated and self sacrificing, can produce great humans like him.

He was old by the time the Emergency broke up the RSS karyalaya that was his home; but he did not hesitate to go out into the cold world; and carry out whatever odd jobs the organisers wanted of him.

He would stand for hours at some designated corner waiting to deliver a letter to or receive a letter from me; or tell me little jokes to keep my spirits up.

He was unfailingly caring with no concern for his own comfort or prestige.

But he was obedient and disciplined; and I do not think I met him ever again after the break.

Suddenly, with Vajpayee's ukase, all this simple warmth with our RSS friends, was cut off.

And so peremptorily and decisively that for instance, when in 1982 Swamy and I went to cast our votes in the MLA assembly elections in the Bombay North East constituency, (we had intended to vote for the BJP candidate), we discovered that even friends and party workers in Bombay with whom we had stayed for years, and who had always safeguarded our election cards, made all sorts of excuses but would not give us the election cards or even tell us which booths we were registered at.

It was almost like being thrown out of a medieval caste set-up, with 'hookah pani bandh'.

Which is why now I am wary of reposing the same trust and friendship ever again. Swamy has long since reconciled to them; and they, finding him useful and like-minded, are warm and supportive.

As for me, appreciative as I continue of their high moral character and ideals which I do share, I am, as I said, wary.

During that period from 1981 onwards, I feel that there has been a terrible tragedy perpetrated on so many of the young idealists who emerged from the RSS school and were absorbed into the BJP cadres.

I knew so many of these young persons during and immediately after the Emergency years: Youth with nothing much more than an education, a couple of sets of spare clothes on a string clothes line and a khatiya in one corner of an RSS karyalaya; and it has pained me to see them metamorphise, under Vajpayee's tutelage and example, into enormously wealthy and powerful individuals, bereft of their earlier moral moorings and often of vicious habits.

Perhaps the old Gandhian freedom fighters, seeing the post Independence change in the Congress party, might understand my feelings.

The animosity in the BJP against Swamy continued for a good more than thirty years.

Even after Vajpayee was felled by a stroke in 2009, the animosity against Swamy was continued and stoked by Vajpayee's sidekicks; and it was only after herculean efforts by a reconstituted and more just RSS, that Swamy was finally inducted into the BJP in 2013.

Most recently I saw a Vajpayee-like ploy on Swamy slickly and effectively carried out by one such sidekick, now a power in his own right having slithered his way almost to the top of the greasy pole, without benefit of a single contested election win under his belt.

In the 2014 general election prelude, it was universally expected that Swamy would be given a ticket to contest; but (as we had discovered in 1977) all the likely tickets were gradually distributed elsewhere.

Finally he was promised the BJP Lok Sabha ticket for the New Delhi constituency.

The announcement was delayed day after day even though the then president of the Delhi BJP kept personally assuring Swamy that he was the unanimous choice of the New Delhi BJP, that it would be given to him alone and had even urged him to start campaigning in the constituency.

Finally, on the last night of ticket distribution, the sidekick saw to it that the ticket went elsewhere: On the insulting plea that the nation's capital must be represented only by a Punjabi! A true pupil of his master.

Excerpted from Evolving with Subramanian Swamy, A Roller Coaster Ride by Roxna Subramanian Swamy, with the author's kind permission.

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Roxna Subramanian Swamy