Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian
He has been the gadfly of Indian politicians more than Indian politics. At various points in his 40-year political career, he took on Ramakrishna Hegde, Jayalalitha, Sonia Gandhi. He started out with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) and was sent to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh when he was merely 35, the minimum age to enter the Upper House, in 1974. He won twice from Bombay North-East, first in 1977 – at the end of the Emergency – and again in 1980 – after the fall of the Janata Party government, but on the Janata Party ticket. He stayed on with the Janata Party as it splintered and faded, and there came a time when he was the sole leader of the party and functioned as its president. He came to Rajya Sabha once again in 1988 from Uttar Pradesh on the Janata Party ticket and in 1998 he won from Madurai. He had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in August 2013, and the party nominated him to the Rajya Sabha in 2016. He has arrived at where he started out from – BJS, Rajya Sabha in 1974 to BJP in 2013, and to Rajya Sabha in 2016.
Through it all, he remained a Hindu right-wing politician and a believer in the market economy. It is interesting that he did not join the Swatantra Party, founded by Congress veteran C Rajagopalachari and former socialist Minoo Masani. At that time he must have shared the Rajya Sabha with the irrepressible Swatantra Party member Piloo Modi. And here we find the first element of Swamy’s complex political personality. He strongly believed in the legitimacy of Hindu politics of the BJS while remaining a market economist. The belief in Hindu politics shows him to be a conservative and the belief in market economics makes him a liberal.
He was also one of the few and persistent Indian politicians who believed in India-Israel relations, and it is possible that it his Hindu politics that must have drawn him to the Zionist politics that underpinned the Jewish state of Israel. The other interesting strand is his interest in communist China, then dominated by Mao Zedong. He is a realist as well as an ideologue, though he can be quite flexible with his ideology. His majoritarian Hindu conservatism does not reduce him to be a blinkered Hindutva ranter. He states his Hindutva views in uncompromising language but it stays a viewpoint which challenges and provokes others more than it threatens others. The liberals and secularists are deeply apprehensive that his pronouncements against Muslims in general are capable of triggering riots and lynchings and even influence policy. So far, Swamy has not been charged of being an abettor of a communal riot though his views cannot but be called communal. He seems to hold the most virulent views with studied sobriety. He certainly enrages others more than getting enraged himself. Harvard University was, however, not amused by his views on Muslims in India and the issue of nationality and they stopped him from offering a summer course in 2011.
Academician Per Se
He worked at the Planning Commission and helped in formulating the international trade rules in the 1990s for the United Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He taught mathematical economics at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, but had trouble because of his anti-socialist views. He fought a long battle which he had won in 1990 even as he took the plunge into politics. He was the student of the well-known liberal economist, Paul Samuelson, and he did his doctorate at Harvard University under another famous one, Simon Kuznets. He holds on to the classical market economy position where state intervention is resented and an individual is to be totally free to unleash his entrepreneurial energies. He does not compromise on the purity of the concept. He is also competitive and aggressive in his economic viewpoint and he crosses swords with other economists or with politicians.
He has remained in Indian politics for more than four decades but on his own terms. He does not dilute his political and economic views to suit place and time, opportunity and need. He takes pride in his academic credentials that he is a blue-blooded economist who has won his spurs and he asserts his superiority over other economic policy-makers, many of whom are politicians or bureaucrats. The secret of his survival seems to be the fact that he has remained faithful to his right-wing Hindu politics and the Hindu right sees in him a knight-in-shining-armour who will argue their case with the necessary intellectual ballast. As a matter of fact, he does not really offer intellectually sophisticated arguments in favour of Hindutva, but the fact that he has academic distinction compels people to respect his arguments and not question too closely his assumptions. The intellectual aura derived from his success in the field of economic studies is transferred to his Hindutva views and people tend to feel that a man of such academic distinction must indeed be speaking the truth on issues unconnected with economics.
He holds uncomplicated views on the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and the sub-marine Ram Setu in the Palk Straits between India and Sri Lanka. He believes that these two are emblems of Hinduism and that is enough for him to argue for them. What we find in Swamy is a man who does not hold unorthodox views either in economics or in Hindutva politics. He musters arguments and lends his intellectual heft to Hindutva issues but he has no critical insights to offer on the subject. He has some interesting contribution in economics but not in Hindutva. Swamy has remained an active participant in Indian politics, though he has not made the big impact that he was expected to make and he was keen to make. Observers would say that he did not fulfill his potential because he remained rigid in his politics, and that his right-wing Hindutva views did not become the main plank in Indian politics. He is either incapable of making compromises or he is too proud to bend, but either way that keeps him out of the power circle. It was only in Chandra Shekhar’s four-month-old government that Swamy served as the Union Minister for Law and Commerce in late 1990-early 1991. The fact that he struck on to the Janata Party from 1977 till he merged it with the BJP in 2013 spanning 26 years shows that he was not too keen to change parties or even to remain a minor cog in a big one.
How does one explain his long stint in the Janata Party, which had originally split on the issue of dual membership of the former Jan Sangh members owing affiliation to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an issue raised by Madhu Limaye and which led to the 100 Jan Sangh members of the Janata Party leaving the party and which led to the fall of the Morarji Desai government in 1979? Swamy did not join the BJP in 1980 as he should have because he was part of the earlier BJS. But for the last decade and more, while remaining the president of the rump Janata Party, he moved back to Hindutva and the RSS. He could also be blatantly inconsistent. In 1999, he brought Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi together to bring down the 13-month government of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Soon after, he turned against both of them. He argues that he fights against corruption and corrupt people. He always chooses as his target people who are more powerful than him, and he seems to take satisfaction from the fact that he has brought down some like Ramakrishna Hegde. What then kept him in the news were his legal battles more than his political activities. He has carved for himself the role of a political vigilante.
In many ways he should have been the ideal politician who combines learning and critical perspective of an intellectual with the public spiritedness of a politician, but he is not because he is too often caught in controversies and battles which are not big enough. But Swamy seems to remain unfazed by the ephemeral nature of his battles because he enjoys fighting them. He is only too willing to provoke and enrage the complacent ones. But that leaves no lasting mark. He, however, remains clear-eyed. He has no delusions that he is doing anything magnificent but feels that every battle he fights is worth a fight, and he would never have any regrets about it.