Dr. Swamy: From Mathematical Economist to Public Interest leader par excellence

Dr. Swamy's entry into Rajya Sabha will strike fear in the hearts of his opponents

RV writes about the multi-talented Dr. Swamy
Dr. Swamy with Prof. R Vaidyanathan, at IIM-B answering questions

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]E[/dropcap]very time I talk or write about Dr. Swamy, I find that there are so many areas that have not been covered. He has been a Teacher, an Economist, a Mathematician, a Politician, Rebel, Crusader against Black Money, appreciated by the Chinese/ Israelis and US leaders, Dog lover and looked at with awe and worry by his opponents. He is the closest in definition to what an Ashtavadhani would do.

…that India can grow at 10%. In those days, it was considered radical. It just goes to show really how far-sighted he was…

When I joined Indian Statistical Institute [ISI] in the early seventies and came to know that Dr. Swamy was an Alumnus, my interest in him started. After his studies at The Hindu College where he stood 3rd in the university, he joined the ISI for a Masters program. I came to know that he was not afraid to criticise P C Mahalanobis, the founder of ISI–about one of his papers.

It should be remembered that Mahalanobis was the brain behind setting up of the Planning Commission, something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi after many decades in 2014 dismantled.

He was the kind of person that no one –not a student under him- dared to question his research etc. But Dr. Swamy was very good at crunching numbers and developing theories.

Dr. Swamy’s famous paper ‘Notes on Fractile Graphical Analysis’ published in Econometrica, 1963 had questioned a Mahalanobis statistical analysis method as not being original but only a differentiated form of an older equation. That really pitched him as a giant killer in those early days.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]H[/dropcap]endrik S Houthakker the American economist who was the referee for the paper published in Econometrica recommended Swamy’s admission to Harvard. He got Rockefeller’s scholarship and completed his Ph.D. in 2 and half years when he was just 24. That was really a record. By 27, he was teaching at Harvard.

He co-authored a paper in 1974 on the theory of Index numbers with Dr. Samuelson—the first American to get Nobel award in Economics- and it was a pioneering effort.

He then in 1975, wrote a book titled “Economic Growth in China and India, 1952–70: A Comparative Appraisal” which is considered as the most authoritative work on the subject. When someone challenged him to learn Mandarin – a tough language in one year, he learnt it in 3 months! Till this day, Swamy is considered an authority on the Chinese Economy.

He met his future wife a Parsi woman – Roxna – at Harvard where she was doing her mathematics research. Later she studied law to practice in Supreme Court of India.

Then he was invited by Delhi School of Economics – by Prof. Amartya Sen – to join Chinese studies as a Chair Professor. But when the powers that be at DSE learnt about his free market thinking and views on nuclear energy— and changed their mind. Upon landing in India, he found out that they offered him a Readers’ job when he was already a Professor at Harvard. Feeling slighted, he rejected the offer.

He then joined IIT Delhi in 1969 from where he was expelled in 1972 by the then government for his anti-communist views. He wanted five-year plans to be scrapped and argued in the seventies that India can grow at 10%. In those days, it was considered radical. It just goes to show really how far-sighted he was since today everyone is talking about it.

In 1970, Indira Gandhi “dismissed” his economic views as that of a “Santa Claus with unrealistic ideas”. The same views were to be implemented by Dr. Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister in 1992 under PVN Rao as PM. That  is the irony of our politics and shows that he was far ahead of his time.

After his expulsion from IIT Delhi, he fought a court case and got re-instated in 1991. He joined for a day just to prove his point before resigning.

He was invited by Nanaji Deshmukh the doyen of Indian politics to join Rajya Sabha in 1974. That changed his professorial life to that of a political leader.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]W[/dropcap]hen Emergency was declared in 1975 he went underground –travelled extensively in the USA to expose emergency. He made a dramatic appearance in Parliament—10th August 1976- to “condole the demise of democracy” and wanted an obituary reference on the same. He immediately left the Parliament and disappeared into thin air. That electrified the entire opposition to Emergency for the “audacity” and Dare Devilry against Indira Gandhi.

Post emergency he was one of the founder members of Janata Party and he continued with the party till the party merged with BJP in 2013. From that angle, he was never a party hopper.

He also had the unique distinction of being a cabinet rank member in P V Narasimha Rao cabinet even though he did not belong to Congress. He was appointed by the then Prime Minister in 1994 as Chairman with Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade with a cabinet rank.

The other aspects about him pertaining to exposure of 2G scam or protection of Sethu Samudram project and National Herald case are recent and well known.

Not many know that he was instrumental in removing the so-called “Single directive” by which permission from  Government was needed before CBI proceeds against any official.

Swamy took this to the Supreme Court which struck down this clause giving investigating agencies freedom to act against possible culprits.

He was solely responsible for the opening up of Manasarovar route to Indians after his meeting with Deng Xiaoping in 1981.

It is an interesting journey of the Mathematician/ Economist as a public interest political leader, a person whose home Goddess Saraswati has taken residence.

His current journey as Rajya Sabha member will create tremors and put the fear of action into the heart of the wrong doers.

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Prof R. Vaidyanathan

Cho S Ramaswamy Visiting Chair Professor of Public policy[CRVCPPP]

Sastra University

An expert in Finance and a two times Fulbright Scholar, Prof. R Vaidyanathan is a much sought after author, speaker and TV commentator on all items related to Money and Finance.
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11 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a Fan of the Doctor (dr.Swamy), but had never seen him face-to-face not heard him in any forums, All that I rely on is the YOUTUBE from where I download his speeches and watch them with awe. A six month tenure to this Professor as a Finance Minister will have a long-standing impact on the thought process within India’s economic class. About Dr Rajan, The Governor (dr.Rajan) should be allowed to continue for another term. With oil prices inching back to $50+, the Governor’s weakness can be exposed. Otherwise, with exit of Dr. Rajan and India facing another Economic rattle, then the liberals would start off saying “He should have been there”. Let’s see

    • Dr Rajan on probation? That’s rich. Get a life dude. And what’s it got to do with liberal thinking I couldn’t fathom. Or are you suggesting that only liberals can think without bias?

  2. I was in his first class he taught at IIT Delhi after he come from Havard. I became his fan since than and followed his career closely. He should not have turned anti-establishment at IIT Delhi after joining in few months. This blocked his career though he was very bright. Same way he went against politicians who brought him to the front. He likes to go solo in his journey of truth. His inner desire to be India’s Finance Minister and do something great for the country has been unfulfilled. I wish he becomes the FM one day. Perhaps, Modi was advised to keep him out of the cabinet so that there is no possibility of revolt at a later date.
    I am happy after a long career with stress he keeps good health and has a sharp mind. I pray and wish him well.

  3. I wish him a healthy & long life so as to lesson corrupt politicians/political system through his wisdom & fight.

  4. I appreciate all that Dr Vaidyanathan has written about my teacher Dr Swamy. No ifs and buts.
    Something puzzles me, though: I was in the ’68 to ’70 batch at DSE and Dr Swamy used to teach us Economic Planning. That’s when we learnt about Mao Ze Dong and his “power flows from the barrel of a gun….” and other things that made us life-long “fans” of Dr Swamy. We developed tremendous respect for the man, even then.
    So, he did serve at DSE (to the delight of all of us, his students).

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