The quintessential maverick

The quintessential maverick

Malladi Rama Rao: The Quintessential Maverick, Subramanian Swamy has dragged Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi to the court.

Subramanian Swamy has dragged Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi to the court. The case relates to now defunct National Herald, and his allegation is that the mother and son had fraudulently taken over the assets of the daily Jawaharlal Nehru had founded in 1938. Even at the best of times, National Herald did not command decent circulation and saw several closures. Even Nehru was unimpressed by its printing standards, according to old timers.

In the years before it ceased publication in 2008, National Herald had no circulation worth the name. And the joke amongst the staffers was that their labour of love would be seen in air and not on the newsstands. It is because Indian Airlines religiously picked up the Nehru paper.

The Herald became famous for the bylines of MC (M Chalapati Rao) and its editorials. Before him and after him also Telugu were at the helm of the daily. K Rama Rao preceded him. K V Rama Sharma, who edited the daily for over a decade till 2003, was a brave heart. He did not allow the daily to become history even when the two national agencies discontinued their wire service as punishment for defaulting on payments, and motivated the staff to carry on in the true spirit of the masthead exhortation: “Freedom is in Peril, Defend it with All Your Might”.

As bureau chief, and leader writer, I, along with a couple of colleagues, tried my best to make the Herald relevant to its times. Some of the edit page layout changes, which we see in The Hans India today, were tried by us a decade back. Our argument was simple: the fourth generation Nehru-Gandhi family would not like to pump money into a media venture that was offering no mileage. The management did not come in our way, and even encouraged us.

Well, we did not succeed and gave up our effort as a lost cause because the office was overstaffed while the desk was understaffed. The family, however, surprised everyone by offering the best ever handshake before the curtains were brought down. The benefits doled out were more than the amounts prescribed under the law and were also extended to ex-staffers like me, who had moved to greener pastures by then.

Swamy’s case against Sonia and her son doesn’t revolve around these mundane issues. It concerns a much larger issue – how the closure was made. His allegation is that the assets of Associate Journals Limited, the holding company that published National Herald, were worth Rs 2,000 crore and a special purpose vehicle was created to acquire control of the company. Noted lawyer and Congress spokesman Manu Abhishek Singvi has termed the case a “motivated campaign” by Subramanian Swamy. The court will decide the truth.

This is not the first time that Swamy has made out a case against Sonia Gandhi. More than a decade ago, he knocked at the court doors. His complaint was that she had claimed to have a degree in the poll affidavit she had submitted. Strangely today the same charge has been levelled against Smriti Iran, the Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD).

Swamy also claims credit for Sonia Gandhi not becoming the Prime Minister. His case is that he had written to the then President APJ Abdul Kalam to stop Sonia Gandhi from becoming the PM since she was not a natural Indian citizen. Kalam and Rashtrapati Bhavan have denied his claim, though. Amma Jayalalithaa and Swamy were friends once. He fought many of her causes, and one such cause was pulling down the second Vajpayee government with the help of Sonia Congress. Once they parted ways, he has sharpened his weapons against her. In a way his tryst with judiciary started with a petition he had filed against the AIADMK supremo in 1996. He had a fight with Rama Krishna Hegde, and was responsible for the Karnataka stalwart’s resignation as Chief Minister in 1998. Hegde did not spare him either, but it is a different story for a different occasion.

To Swamy also should go the credit of exposing the 2G scam that A Raja of DMK has found himself embroiled in. He had shot off the first of five letters to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008, and when no action was taken by the UPA government, he moved the Supreme Court.

Swamy is amongst the few politicians to oppose the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). He even converted Chandrababu Naidu and L K Advani to his cause. Now that he is in a position to be heard, we can expect a revival of interest in what has been appearing as another lost cause of Subramanian Swamy.

Since I began saying that the Telugus were closely associated with the National Herald, it will be fair and proper to say that Swamy too has some Telugu DNA – of Chenna Reddy and Valluri Basava Raju.

Unlike the two Telugu greats, he is known as a maverick, who loves his USP of remaining in focus always. Yet, he is on the same page as Reddy and Raju. It is because he combines in himself the two features that had made these two stalwarts dreaded during their time. My reference is to the oft mentioned remark attributed to Burgula Rama Krishna Rao, the first elected Chief Minister of erstwhile Hyderabad state, that it was not advisable to keep Chenna Reddy outside the government and VB Raju inside the government.

Only two leaders have managed to subdue the Tamil Brahmin (Tambram). One of them was PV, who made him head a committee on labour standards - international trade and enjoy the rank of a Cabinet Minister. By late seventies itself, Swamy had authored simplified trade procedures and formulated a new export strategy which became the forerunner of global trade reforms. He liked the slot but what work he did for PV remains shrouded in mystery.

“God-Man” Chandraswami (Nemi Chand before he acquired notoriety as tantrik and godman) might have influenced PV’s decision but there is nothing in public domain which lends credence to such a view. So it must be entirely a decision of the Chanakya from Karimnagar to keep the Tambram fully occupied during his reign.

Another person who had chained Swamy in a manner of speaking was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Chanakya from Gwalior. During the Jan Sangh days, and later during the Janata days, Swamy had earned the wrath of Vajpayee by bad-mouthing him and commenting in public about his habits and life-style. The price he paid was expulsion. Though he tried to ingratiate himself to the RSS leadership in the years that followed, he could not gatecrash into the BJP.

Now that Vajpayee has become a dot in the BJP history, Swamy has staged a comeback and has become a BJP face on the small screen. Some of his friends down the South and across the Palk Straits in Colombo have expected for him a suitable ministerial berth or an equivalent rank in the Modi dispensation. This expectation has not materialised thus far; it is unlikely to materialise since Modi appears to follow the Atal line of keeping trouble-makers – both real and potential – at bay.

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