Dr. Subramanian Swamy – A Giant among Pygmies

One of the true giants of Indian Politics, Dr. Swamy is a multi-talented personality whose only compass is truth

Dr. Subramanian Swamy - A Giant among Pygmies
One of the true giants of Indian Politics, Dr. Swamy is a multi-talented personality whose only compass is truth

His moral compass is set against criminality and inefficiency, he expects transparency and abidance to the rule of law.

Watching events in India unfold from the UK is always fascinating. In England we are not familiar with many Indian politicians, there are frequent diaspora interactions with politicians, but they tend to hub around events at the Indian High Commission or at the London School of Economics. One of the exceptions is Dr. Subramanian Swamy who is regularly invited to participate in student debates and with think tanks; to my knowledge, he has been invited twice to Warwick, Oxford and the Ditchley Foundation in the past three years. Swamy appears tireless, moving seamlessly between cultures to support India, encouraging international bilateral relations and promoting his own Hindutva agenda. The many photographs in his office bear testimony to his worldwide reach, with Deng XiaoPing, with Barack Obama, with Prince Faisal; Swamy is what I call a global Hindu.

This personality coupled with his ethics has made him uniquely appealing to masses of young Indians and to foreigners.

Although he is without portfolio since 2014 Swamy has continued to campaign for the principles and vision set down in the BJP 2014 Manifesto: lower taxes and interest rates, improving life for farmers and making the most of India’s agricultural potential, bringing back Black Money and eliminating the scope for corruption, empowering women, sharing and re-awakening India’s civilizational heritage and culture, calling for Hindu unity and eliminating divisions of caste and language, refreshing the education curriculum, unblocking bureaucracy, innovation for job creation, the importance of technology, proffering ideas for improving the economy and tourism, advocating transparency and fast-tracking in the judiciary, and alternately bashing Pakistan or Sonia Gandhi.

Swamy is not someone who can be pigeonholed but for the purposes of this article, he is going to fitted into a Venn diagram as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Dr. Swamy described in a Venn diagram
Figure 1. Dr. Swamy described in a Venn diagram

The first of the three circles will be called Personality.  Swamy’s reputation precedes him, he can be relied on to be outspoken about issues but in general, he is just articulating the popular sentiment and urging the relevant administration/bureaucracy to act on the specific issue. He is an irrepressible patriot, maverick lawman, crime buster and wit, he is patient, uncondescending and usually relaxed. He has nothing to prove, his views and honour have been repeatedly vindicated. For a 100% Hindu he has an unconventionally secular family, married to Roxna, a Parsi, they have two daughters, one who is married to a Muslim and he has a Jewish brother in law; he also loves his dogs. This personality coupled with his ethics has made him uniquely appealing to masses of young Indians and to foreigners.

The second circle will be called Ethics. Dr. Swamy comes from a strict Brahmin family, his father Sitaram Subramanian had strict Congress principles and was “khadi orientated”. Sitaram Subramanian, was also a mathematician and Director of The Central Statistic Organization for India, an advocate of freedom of thought he was very ethical; as a great friend of Prime Minister Nehru, Sitaram even dared to disagree about the quality of Nehru’s advisors. This gives us a glimpse of the questioning and challenging atmosphere of Swamy’s early home life. His moral compass is set against criminality and inefficiency, he expects transparency and abidance to the rule of law. Once he has got his teeth into a cause he is like a dog with a bone. As a Ram devotee, he is driven by dharma and karma.

Dr. Swamy’s interpretation of Hindutva and the RSS is inclusive, he told me Hindutva means Hinduness, I think he said Hinduism is the defining characteristic of an Indian- whatever their faith or ethnicity. The common DNA theory is meant as a unification strategy, if Hindus and Muslims combine with one common heritage it is more likely to be peaceful going forward. What brought Dr. Swamy and Narendra Modi together originally was the concern that wherever there is a Muslim minority the Hindu majority suffers, examples Kashmir and Kerala. Swamy’s idea was to introduce equanimity across faiths, enforce education for women of all faiths and for all schools to have their curricula approved by The Central Board of Education, then introduce a Uniform Civil Code.

The Harvard years

Now let’s put his vast Experience into the third circle, here I refer to my notes from a couple of 2014 meetings. Subramanian Swamy studied for his masters in India at the Statistical Institute, his first foray into controversy was to expose the writings and theories of PC Mahalanobis as bogus and plagiarised; he was irrationally persecuted by Mahalanobis, his paper was so derisory he was anxious that he would be flunked. He wrote an article for Econometrica – a society and journal dedicated to a rigorous approach to theoretical, empirical, abstract and applied economic problems. This article went to Harvard for adjudication and Swamy was invited to Harvard for a Ph.D. During this time he studied under Nobel Laureate Simon Kuznets developing a lifelong affinity and respect for Jewish people. Whilst at Harvard Swamy discovered the satisfaction of disputing and became very proficient. The outcome was he was honoured to write a paper with the celebrated Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson for the American Economic Review, at the age of 24 Swamy became the first Asian in the Economic Faculty at Harvard.

Sold down the river

In 1969 he returned from Harvard at the invitation of Amartya Sen for a Professor’s chair on Chinese studies at the Delhi School of Economics, but this was short lived as his nuclear views and right-wing thinking was not in the political jet stream of that leftish time. Swamy is well known for his scholarship of China, he is fluent in Mandarin, Swamy declared that at that stage the potential for China and India was equivalent. He started demolishing anti-India stories, primarily that India was not capable of producing an Atom Bomb; he claimed that Atom Bomb development would generate jobs and growth, he promoted abandoning the Congress Government’s Soviet controls and principles. His scheme predicted 10% growth (not 3.5%), it was affordable without foreign loans. All this made him very unpopular with Indira Gandhi.  Fake news rumours were rife: Swamy was a Soviet brainwashed intellectual or a CIA implant! Amartya Sen discredited him publicly by announcing he belonged the Hindu Right and Mrs. Gandhi made an accusation in Parliament that his free enterprise Hayekian book was a dangerous document written by Santa Klaus and signaled that he be treated as persona non grata, IIT withdrew his position. Swamy took the fall-back position of Professor of Mathematics at IIT.

The Emergency Years

The Emergency found him literally on the streets with his pregnant wife and a two-year-old daughter. A stint in exile in America and a 22year long court case ensued, he won and he was legally reinstated at IIT in the late 1990’s. Many Indian intellectuals were scared to be seen with him lest their commitment to socialism be doubted, thus in characteristic confrontation style, Swamy chose politics over academia.

He was Principal and Founder of the Janata Party which toppled Indira Gandhi, but problems arose for Swamy and the Janata party, the conflict with Vajpayee who was the party favorite meant there was friction between the ideological combinations of the party. This was not helped by Vajpayee’s envy of Swamy, inevitably “active measures” were taken against him and industrialists hurt by the disinformation campaign ceased donations, thus the destitute Janata Party split; Swamy remained President of what was left.

Mrs. Gandhi’s disavowal of him made him an attractive proposition for the RSS, he used this association to make his views known. Swamy and the RSS were a mutually useful partnership, the RSS had previously never had any economic expertise and the RSS gave Swamy as a pre-eminent Professor a perfect platform for attracting attention, the RSS adopted his Hindutva principle that India could stand up on her own feet. Swamy was always confident that the population was convertible into an educated innovative community.

The Jan Sangh Years

By now Swamy was renowned as a trouble-shooter – some may have said troublemaker– he called a meeting of the IIT senate and announced that 84% of the Institute Budget was going for building projects, not academia and research and that the laws of temporary academic employment were being exploited. He created an additional trade union to represent academics which within three months became the dominant union. But an administrative crackdown backfired and he discovered some corruption resulting from a discrepancy in the accounts of an auditorium construction which he was compelled to expose.

An appeal to the Supreme Court overturned the above, during the UP elections The Jana Sangh asked him to help add more seats. With IIT he ran a campus programme “vote profile analysis” that identified 220 out of 424 that they could potentially win with no corruption involved. The tally rose from 15 to 61, Swamy was celebrated, The Jana Sangh/ RSS rewarded him with promotion to the Rajya Sabha.

Locking horns with Indira Gandhi

It was about now that Mr. Vajpayee was sympathetic and friendly as a contrast to Indira Gandhi’s antipathy towards him. In 1974 an employee of a State-owned insurance company came forward with some evidence that Sonia Gandhi (then a housewife) was an insurance agent for four State-owned insurance companies. All the insured were employees of the Prime Minister’s Office and had given the business address of the PMO.  Indian law said that no foreigner can be an insurance agent and a private government address was illegal as a business address.

There was an absolute furore when Swamy raised this in Parliament, his inherent morality raised a criminal complaint against which Indira Gandhi swore a statement that Sonia had resigned and was unaware of any illegality. Swamy was now a right-wing national hero and his reputation as troubleshooter against injustice was confirmed.

In 1980 the practice of accepting a commission for deals became the political norm in Delhi, a political tradition that continues to this day. Swamy with his intransigent attitude to corruption saw his party get smaller and smaller.

Swamy has no law degree he is motivated by public interest; in 1988 he accused Ramakrishna Hegde, Karnataka Chief Minister, of phone tapping and misusing discretionary powers to wrongly allocate prime land resulting in a conviction.

Chandrashekhar Govt.

In 1990 Swamy organised the overthrow of the then incumbent VP Singh coalition. The Janata party sided with Rajiv Gandhi and set up a new coalition government in November 1990. He became the senior-most Cabinet Minister with two powerful portfolios of Commerce and Law & Justice.  He then was able to persuade Prime Minister Chandrashekhar to make a dramatic change in India’s foreign policy of non-alignment by permitting 5 airfield sites in India for the US to land their aircraft en route to Saudi Arabia to combat Saddam Hussein in Kuwait during Gulf War I, for which he was praised personally by George Bush senior.

Swamy then set about drafting the blueprints for a market-friendly economic reform for which he received worldwide appreciation for proposing the dismantling of the Soviet command economic model. It was this blueprint that the successor Narasimha Rao government implemented and set the Indian economy onto the path of high growth rates in GDP.

Role in Rao Government

Dr. Swamy was invited to join the Rao government in a Cabinet rank post requiring dealing with World Trade Organisation issues, he abolished Soviet influence; he opened up initiatives in China to sign the first ever Trade Treaty and Protocol in February 1991.

Again in 1998, his Janata Party entered into a coalition with the BJP, a premier Tamil Nadu party, and others, to unseat Mrs. Sonia Gandhi led Congress Party in the General Elections to Parliament. But on past enmity, Vajpayee blocked his becoming Finance Minister despite the coalition partners decision. Within a year, Dr. Swamy took revenge on Vajpayee in 1999 by getting a major regional partner to defect from his coalition and bring down his government.

Despite living in India, Dr. Swamy continued to teach economics at Harvard University, who had wanted to keep a slice of his intellectual precision, he spent one semester there during the summer for 30+ years. But mysteriously in 2012 Harvard deleted his courses on a majority vote in the University Faculty meeting on a motion moved by the religious studies professors. Dr. Swamy had written an op-ed article in an Indian newspaper that was purportedly offensive to Muslims repeating some genetic research that Muslims and Hindus share the same ancestral DNA, this caused a commotion amongst liberal Left-wing academics.  But a subsequent dinner meeting with President Barack Obama cleared the impression that Dr. Swamy, who had become a cult hero of Hindutva causes, was not persona non grata in the US.

Between 2008 and 2012, still motivated by ideological principles, he succeeded in cancelling the licenses of 9 telecom companies on the grounds that Spectrum is a National resource and therefore public property. He proved that had the licenses been issued at market price the Government revenue would have been equivalent to the personal income tax for the Nation for one year. If this was allowed to take place every year it would have meant huge revenue for the nation instead of the “existing idiotic Nehruvian schemes” that benefit no-one.

2014 Strategic Action Committee

In 2014 Swamy chaired the Strategic Action Committee that was so instrumental in planning Narendra Modi’s election campaign. Today as a third time Rajya Sabha member with no Ministerial post, Swamy is still campaigning pan-India on that 2014 BJP Manifesto; doing what it says on the tin, fulfilling as far as he can the pledges but without the authority to implement everything. Here’s where the three circles come in, join them into a Venn diagram, and where the circles intersect is a perfect connection between the man and many of the foundations of the Manifesto.

His reputation in his Asian neighborhood and from Israel to China, Silicon Valley to London demonstrates what a global Hindu he is. Swamy’s Virat convictions are in his DNA, he has the credentials for Finance Minister but BJP have never made that call.

Before the 2019 election, it is worth re-reading the introduction to the Manifesto by Murli Manohar Joshi, has trust in the government been restored?

Antonia Filmer is a former British Vogue Fashion Editor and Design Director of Laura Ashley; Antonia was a freelance contributor to Harpers and World of Interiors, she produced summer Garden Operas for 10 years to benefit a children’s charity. In 2012 Antonia wrote produced, directed and edited a documentary “The Last Maharaja”. Antonia is currently the London correspondent for The Sunday Guardian- India.
Antonia Filmer


  1. Dr Swamy-One GEM India have–No one used his potential fully— he had exposed many shady deals of the govts-be it spectrum or Sonias LIC agency and National Herald
    Hats off to him-Looking forward to meet him soon—

  2. very nice analysis of Dr Swamy..he is like the Lotus( bjp symbol)..we Indians seldom realise like frogs in Lotus Pond..Ms Antonio comes and tastes the nectar ..wish she mentioned about Dr Swamy’s Guru Paramacharia of Kanchi..who guided him..Excellent article abt my beloved Guru

  3. A communal & divisive person whose only qualification is master’s degree in hatred and bigotry.While in India, he hates Muslims and Christians but he would like to enjoy every bit of Muslim & Christian countries like Dubai & Europe/ USA.In any civilised country, this clown should be behind bars.


  4. It is Advani,another Vajpayee Corny,who is the reason for Swamy being kept out. LK wants to be the PM. To keep him away,RSS/ Modi forced bring in age criteria of 75 years.LK had even refused to vacate Party Presudent post.RSS had to use subtle force. Had LK been magnanimous &accepted Modi leadership in the party & Govt some good minds like Swamy, Shourie etc would been part of the govt & Modi /country would have benefitted. See what LK and Atal duo have to party for 40 years and what Modi and Amit Shah have done in 5 years. For 40 years Lk& Atal have hijacked the party and stunted it’s growth

  5. We need many in the mould of Dr Swamy to bring back the old glory of our nation and to establish a corruption free administration that will propel the nation to progress with greater speed. Thanks for the enlightening and very informative article by Antonia Filmer.

  6. Although many recognize and acknowledge Dr. S. Swamy as a talented Smart Scholar, Economist-Reformist, Patriotic Indian who goes all out as a CRUSADER to get rid off corruption in India, getting things done and get to the finishing line is not his forte. He has struggled hard for long and the political party he currently represents gets a lot of mileage due to his campaigns across the globe but steadfastly fail to openly acknowledge his contribution and commitment for the success and benefit they get out of him. Ms. Antonia Filmer has done a thorough in-depth analysis of the work and contributions of Dr. S. Swamy but could have covered the downside and why Dr. Swamy could not succeed and become a charismatic leader. Perhaps, an emotional and divided India is unable to see through and accept an intellectual giant to lead them and they settle for mediocrity, carried away by those who make emotionaland fiery speeches and deliver less. C. Rajagopala Chari [Rajaji] and Sardar Vallabhai Patel were relegated/pushed to the background by J. Nehru. Modi relies more on Arun Jaitley. Feel sad for India not making the right choice to succeed. India would have advanced much faster had they listened to Rajaji in 1950s and 60s. The history continues with another intellectual giant, Dr. S. Swamy, whose views and commitment to eradicate corruption in high places has fallen on the deaf ears of Mr. Modi and Arun Jaitley. Perhaps, it is the human ego that dominates and a loss for the nation. Wish Ms. Antonia Filmer also covered the down side to elaborate why Dr. S. Swamy has not emerged as the tall leader to implement his plans. In the end, every nation gets what they deserve.

  7. Precisely put forward by a British columnist that really gives us great boost to see our very own erudite Dr Swamy being recognized with all his excellent qualities coupled with Rambo like approach to vanquish the enemies.

  8. Sir, Dr. Subramanian Swamy is a legend. Had he been the Prime Minister of India we would have achieved huge successess. It is unfortunate that even the present Modi government seems to have ignored him.

  9. I don’t quite understand the insistence on extreme ethics. The current political system does not provide adequate remuneration to politicians. The ‘perks’ and the corruption have consequently become a part of the chicken and egg story.
    Swami’s narrative of Sonia’s insurance agency bothers me a lot, especially considering that he has never raised a voice against continuing penetration of US insurance companies in Indian market.
    I am not at all convinced that the slate is clean but I would be happy to be proven wrong.

  10. It is sad that Dr.Swamy is seen as a maverick who is more into opposing than making constructive contributions. Thanks to Antonia for the revelation that most of PV Narasimha Rao’s departure from Congress’s Soviet and Left oriented economic models were in fact derde by Swamy. It is my dream to see India as a non Socialist but progressive modern nation. I would have liked to see Swamy as an FM at least and see if he work that wonder he so passionately advocates. Seeing the abolition of Personal Income tax. If he could demonstrate that and yet see India as a growing economy at 10% – it is he who must receive the next Nobel for Economics.

  11. What a nice and brief biography. Kudos…in current times there is no place for virtues but only populism… Mr modi surely knew that if swamy was taken into cabinet… swamy would overtake him in all respect.. be it vision, clarity, intellact, policy making, or implementation… modi knows that people will forgot him if there is a compititve parallel called swamy in govt. All selfishness… but in the name of nationalism. !!!!

  12. Appreciate Antonia Filmer, briefly narrating the events took place in Dr.Subramanian Swamy’s academic and political career.In our country, I found Dr.Swamy and Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev having clarity in their thought processes, problem solving abilities, energetic, patience, talent, skill-sets in convincing opponents, good network with intellectuals. Both are true nationalists. These two gentlemen are more popular than or equal to PM Modi. India as a nation is at a loss due to bad politics and age bar restricts in BJP. It was reported that Nancy Pelosi may return as Washington’s the most Powerful Woman at 78! I am aware of the fact that, in some parts of the world even 85/88 years old ones are doing research and development!
    Personally I prefer Dr.Swamy to be our PM not just as our FM.

  13. Any leader who loves India would have taken Swamy into cabinet in drop of a hat. True patriotic leader like PVNR gave him high rank and lot of responsibility. Same with Chandrasekhar. Even Indira Gandhi seek his help to deal with China.
    But why Modi not doing? I wish I know. My only explanation is: I suspect even Modi is scared of Swamy’s intellect. that is the ONLY explanation I can think of.

  14. Yes, I think it is the Law of Nature, the state of mind of parents at the molten that moulds, the virtue in the children they make. I too have similar concerns, commitments, dedications, spend time to Eradicate Malnutrition, Corruption, Cross Border Terror Business houses and to spread virtuous education to enhance Innovation and employment generation. I am a whistle blower and system collude, make me suffer injustice. Yet I & my Innovation struggle to survive. Should death is necessary precondition for the constructive efforts of individual see the light of the day?
    Email: nagarajanks27@yahoo.co.in
    Founder Trustee” Tad Dvam Asi Trust (Regd).


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