Will Subramanian Swamy become BJP's brahmastra or albatross?

Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swami arrives during the Parliament Session in New Delhi. Photo: PTI
During the discussion on AgustaWestland bribery case in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, Congress leader Anand Sharma called Subramanian Swamy ‘diabolical’ and someone who is ‘obsessed’ with Congress President Sonia Gandhi. He cautioned the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that Swamy is loose cannon and they will soon find the cannon’s mouth turned towards them, as have Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the past.

Swamy, in the 10 days since being nominated, has vastly improved BJP’s firepower in the Upper House. In the last two years, the BJP has found itself both lacking in numbers but also articulate speakers who could take on a constellation of experienced opposition parliamentarians. BJP’s more articulate Upper House MPs are ministers — Arun Jaitley and M Venkaiah Naidu — who are burdened with their onerous portfolios, while others like Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani, Nirmala Sitharaman and Bhupender Yadav are either too junior or lack the skills to take on such effective speakers as Sitaram Yechury, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mayawati, Sharad Yadav and Jairam Ramesh.

Moreover, Naidu and Jaitley are rare ministers in the Narendra Modi government who have a good rapport with senior leaders in the Opposition ranks, which is necessary for the smooth functioning of the Parliament. Neither, therefore, can afford to launch the kind of attacks that Swamy has done on Congress President Sonia Gandhi. There are already demands from Swamy’s more enthusiastic followers in social media that the 76-year-old be included in the Union Cabinet, which they argue will allow him to speak even in the Lok Sabha. Both Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi are members of the Lok Sabha.

Read more from our special coverage on "SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY"

Swamy’s speech on Wednesday indicated that he was likely to concentrate his line of attack on — as he put it during his speech — “the one who must not be named”. Last week, his naming of Sonia Gandhi on the floor of the House had led to adjournments of proceedings and expunging of his remarks from the record. Unlike several other leaders in both BJP as well as other political parties, and with the exception of Arvind Kejriwal, Swamy is somebody who doesn’t believe that Sonia and Rahul are beyond criticism.

The government is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, and while its numbers are set to improve in the Upper House by 2018, it will not get a simple majority in the Rajya Sabha at least until the current term of the Modi government. This lack of numbers has meant key bills getting stuck in the House. Swamy’s focus on the Gandhis might also give BJP a bargaining chip with the Congress. “Please cooperate or else we will unleash Swamy on you” — could now be the unsaid threat.

On Wednesday, Swamy also took care not to insult other members of the Opposition, including Congress MPs like former PM Manmohan Singh and Janata Dal (United)’s Sharad Yadav. He took care not to open too many fronts. On May 3, Swamy had tweeted about his meeting with the PM and discussing several issues. He also lauded the PM for his functioning in the Parliament "because his democratic, does not micro-manage MPs and allows free expression."

But only time can tell whether Swamy becomes BJP's brahmastra or its albatross. Swamy was nominated to the Rajya Sabha on April 25 and will serve a six-year term until April 24, 2022. His past record shows that six years is a long time in Swamy’s school of politics.

Swamy made it to the Rajya Sabha in 1974 on a Jana Sangh ticket, did a stellar job in fighting the Emergency and was a Janata Party Lok Sabha MP twice in 1977 and 1980.  

Swamy, by 1985, was one of the closest advisers of the then PM Rajiv Gandhi. In 1991, Chandra Shekhar included him in his Cabinet. In 1994, the subsequent PV Narasimha Rao government too gave him a Cabinet rank.

In 1991, Swamy — who now talks about building a Ram temple in Ayodhya and has become a Hindutva votary — described the BJP as a party of semi-literates with fascist tendencies. He brought down the Vajpayee government of 1998 when he organized the famous tea party between Jayalalithaa and Sonia Gandhi. He had once called Vajpayee a drunk, while the former PM had called him a CIA agent. In 2000, Swamy wrote a stinging write up against the "creeping fascism of the RSS".

Swamy has never had permanent friends or enemies. In the past, Swami has taken on Indira Gandhi, Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi. The ones who could keep him on their side were Rajiv Gandhi, Chandra Shekhar and PV Narasimha Rao. All three assuaged Swamy by lending a keen ear to his advice and important positions in their durbars. It will be interesting to see whether Prime Minister Modi will be willing to pay that price and for how long.

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