Narendra Modi’s Alpha-male image of a domineering individual, a la Barabara Cartland’s romantic fiction, has been severely dented by the antics of Subramanian Swamy, a seemingly out-of-control saffron gadfly.
Initially presumed to have been elevated to the ranks of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs to needle the Nehru-Gandhis in parliament, Swamy has veered off the designated course, like an authentic maverick, and is now picking off one target after another — Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan first and Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian next.
Swamy has succeeded in discomfiting Rajan sufficiently with his charges of the banker not being fully an Indian, as he is a Green Card holder, and also acting at the behest of the US multinationals to damage the Indian small and medium industries.
There is not an iota of proof in what Swamy has been saying, but that is the way loose cannons operate. However, the unsubstantiated allegations were sharp enough to get under Rajan’s skin, making him decide not to seek a second term.
Evidently, an economist of his stature was not going to allow a common or garden-variety meddler to make insulting insinuations for long. Rajan’s expectation may have been for the government to come to the defence of an “employee”, as Swamy calls the governor of a widely respected autonomous institution.
But, apart from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s disapproval of personal attacks, there was not a squeak from the others. The prime minister even told the Wall Street Journal that it wasn’t the media’s business to be interested in the tenures of central bankers.
If anything, the dismissive remark suggested that he was on Swamy’s side, although the fact that Modi does not hold press conferences probably means that he believes that nothing should be of interest to the media any way.
However, it is when Swamy trained his guns on Arvind Subramanian that Jaitley jumped to the latter’s defence by asserting how valuable the adviser is.
A BJP spokesman also said that the party does not agree with Swamy’s views and that they were “completely his personal opinion”.
A parallel can be drawn with what happened earlier. Soon after Modi’s takeover in 2014, the saffron hotheads started shooting from the hip, calling Nathuram Godse a patriot (Sakshi Maharaj, MP) and those not associated with the BJP were haramzadae or illegitimate children (Sadvi Niranjan Jyoti, a union minister).
But they were quickly reined in. So were those like Yogi Adityanath, MP, who were campaigning in favour of ghar wapsi for Muslims and a devious love jehad directed at Hindu girls.
The next few days will show whether similar disciplinary steps will be taken against Swamy.
But, irrespective of whether his exuberance is checked, what the events of the recent past has shown is that neither is the BJP as disciplined as it claims to be, nor is Modi in full control of his party and the saffron brotherhood as is believed.
While Swamy’s provocative conduct may have pleased himself and the extremists around him, probably in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), they cannot he unaware that his antics have damaged Modi’s reputation more than any of the opposition’s attacks have done.
Moreover, Swamy is no longer seen as a court jester who likes to entertain the audience with his political frolics, but as an activist who is unafraid of pursuing his own line even if it contradicts the government’s.
As long as he was targeting the Nehru-Gandhis, he was perceived as someone serving the BJP’s cause. But no longer. Now it is suspected, as the Congress has pointed out, that his real target is Arun Jaitley who, the grapevines suggest, is not a favourite of the genuine saffronites.
If this is indeed the case, then it is obvious that Swamy has powerful backers who are not as mindful of the reputation of God’s gift to the nation, which is how parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu describes Modi.
Considering how there are visible signs of progress in fields like science and technology with the launch of 20 satellites in one go, the possibility of a bullet-train ride in five hours between Delhi and Kolkata, the government’s energetic pursuit of a seat in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and so on, the totally unnecessary controversies created by allowing Swamy to run amok can seem odd to the average person.
Whatever be the subterranean political manoeuvres, they are bound to harm Modi’s image internally and spook the foreign investors notwithstanding the opening of new doors for them since the move is seen more as a measure to calm the markets after Rajan’s decision to quit than a genuine desire to open up the economy.
The government has spent too much time dithering about the economy with the result that doubts are being raised about the claims of a seven percent growth rate – the Congress plus the cow, as Arun Shourie mockingly calls the economic policy.
The government now has to show that its hands are firmly on the wheel and that it cannot be pushed around by a busybody.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)