Swamy and his media friends (and enemies)

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.

The profile is occasioned by Harvard University’s recent decision to not renew Swamy’s teaching contract for a venomous column in DNA in July on “How to wipe out Islamic terror“:

“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

Also read: Does Swamy‘s DNA column amount to incitement?

Is UPA hitting back at TOI, India Today, DNA?

Swamy & friends: a very, very short story


  1. This is regarding Subrahmanyam Swamy’s articlee, “How to wipe out Islamic Terror.” I used to think of Swamy as an enlightened, mature intellectual. I was a bit surprised when he opted to join the BJP. His article is in the nature of inciting the Hindus. What is the difference between those under educated fanatics of different religions and us the well educated matured people?

    Violence or retaliation brings in more violence and goes on unending. Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God is Within You” is an excellent exposition of the efficacy of non-violence and the method of its practice. What strikes you is the rationality of the argument.

    When do we mature to think in terms of human beings and not as Hindus, Muslims and so on. Religion is one’s personal matter and need not affect one’s relations or feelings people of other religions. The essence of all religions is the same and they are sort of codes of conduct. Misguided fanatics have been misleading the common people with their immature pet theories and beliefs. We must find a sensible way of dealing with them and enlightening them. Make them realize the foolishness of killing innocent people en mass.

  2. Would you rather be Swamy’s friend, acquaintance or whatever. He is a maverick often putting his foot into his mouth. Life it seems has treated him well and he can afford to be the performing flea of Indian politics flitting from left, right and center. May his tribe increase and make our media lively. Hope no one swats him out of spite although Harvard recently spanked him rightly or wrongly.

  3. Mysore Peshva

    “His dogs have come from N. Ram’s litter…”

    Sorry, but I thought that line was hilarious.

  4. Only Jayalalaithaa knows how to handle Mr. Subramanian Swamy. Thinking that Jaya will be afraid of Swamy’s dirty tricks, he did his best against Jaya without knowing how clever Jaya. After failing his tricks and threats Swamy offered her help once again provided if she takes him as a friend and to agree for some kind of reward. But Jaya simply dumped him and Swamy Ji is waiting, waiting and waiting. Huh.

  5. Jayanth

    Wasn’t Sonia Gandhi’s tea party held in early 1999, not in 1998, as mentioned in the article?

  6. Let the record also show that you have no idea of what Islam is about. I am not defending Swamy on what he wrote, and would still like to challenge him on several fronts, believing what he wrote, he wrote in a fit of anger, however, I am totally with him in his understanding of Indian society and Islam. Fact is that ppl like Aurobindo, Dayanand Saraswati etc. wrote about the hindu-muslim problem, and were scathing in their criticism of Islam’s fascist ideologies; however, it is ppl like Nehru, Gandhi whom we discuss, and who took a lenient view of Islam, not Vivekananda or Aurobindo.

    1. Sam

      Why don’t you enlighten us what your perception about Islam and indian muslims are?

  7. Dipak

    The first paragraph reads:
    “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.”
    Something rather wrong in that statement I think?
    The article too was rather a let down

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