The odds must be crazy

An insider account of the life and times of Subramanian Swamy, and how he’s survived it all, including the Emergency

Published:October 14, 2017 1:46 am
But of course, once he had become a pest abroad, the government tightened the screws and refused to grant him further leaves, and the time was approaching when he would forfeit his membership by these absences.

Book: Evolving with Subramanian Swamy – A roller coaster ride
Author: Roxna Swamy
Pages: 264
Price: Rs 524

We learnt of the Emergency at some unearthly hour like two o’ clock in the morning of the 25th June 1975. The phone rang and the disembodied voice at the other end asked Swamy whether he was there, adding that if he was, they “were coming to get him”. Swamy was startled. The previous night there had been a huge public meeting at Ram Lila Grounds; and Swamy had been there sitting between Morajibhai and JP, (they did not get on well with each other) with Nanaji’s instructions to keep the peace between them; but he had not anticipated anything like this.

While he was wondering about his next move, the phone rang again: this time it was Sundari Malkani, wife of K.R. Malkani, the editor of the Party’s newspaper Motherland to tell us that the police had just taken Malkani away. So Swamy decided to make himself scarce. As dawn arose, Swamy drove away, startling a few shadowy persons who had been hanging around outside. In a few days he had rendezvoused with what was left unimprisoned of the Central Jan Sangh leadership. And he had the car sent back to me.

For the first few months of the Emergency, Swamy moved around India with Nanaji Deshmukh (who was organising the RSS Underground), acting as his driver. Nanaji, till then a respectable dhoti clad gentleman with greying hair, now emerged as a bespectacled businessman in a grey safari suit and dyed black hair. And Swamy became a Sardarji. It was a pretty convincing disguise; and it became quite well known later after the Emergency was over, because at one time while he was hiding out in my sister Coomi’s (she’s now Contributing Editor, Indian Express) apartment (Coomi, her husband and baby were then occupying the Vithalbhai Patel House apartment allotted to Swamy as an MP), Coomi took a photograph of him so disguised…

As for Swamy, he went abroad using an unusual take-off by air from Trichinopoly to Colombo, cooling his heels in Colombo until the next flight to London, (to his dismay it took quite long to come during which time he had nothing to maintain himself on except his American Express Credit Card), and then on to the West, where he travelled extensively trying to educate people on the tyrannies of the Emergency government…

However in general Swamy’s foreign activities upset Indira Gandhi, who objected to anyone abroad learning unfavourable aspects of the Emergency, or indeed that there was some sort of resistance at all, kept alive in India; so finally we started getting a tougher police surveillance. For one week, the newspapers and radio broadcast the (to me) humiliating news that Dr Subramanian Swamy MP was going to be prosecuted under the Contravention of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act. The general public would be pardoned for thinking that Swamy was involved in some smuggling and foreign exchange racket: but actually the charge against him was simply that having gone abroad on a few months’ permission, he had stayed on there without further permission (under our stringent foreign exchange act, even such an overstay was a criminal offence). We also suffered a police camp outside our house and a police tail…

There was never any letup in the Police vigilance. After all every month they had to appear before their bosses to explain why another month had passed without their producing Dr Subramanian Swamy. I remember one momentous series of raids in May 1976, which occurred while I was in Bombay helping to arrange for my father’s trip to the US for treatment of his cancer of the liver. The Enforcement Directorate raided his Bombay house where, to save my parent’s further harassment, I handed over my letters from Swamy…

Mr Narasimhan, who was then editor of the Financial Express and should know about matters like that, told me that the Enforcement Directorate were looking for shady foreign exchange transactions; so every numeral in the confiscated papers had to be analysed just in case it referred to some foreign exchange… Eventually, in disgust they called me over to decipher at least Swamy’s letters. Now these letters included a full scale disguised plan for his return to India in August; so I had a field day falsely reading all the clues to wean them away from any hint of Swamy’s projected return…

And that return was the next highlight of our lives. To keep their membership alive, Parliamentarians are required to be present in the House at least once every six months. Since quite a few members had been jailed (the polite word used by the Government, was “detained”), and so could not be present in Parliament, Parliament had developed the practice of routinely granting leave of absence to any MP who applied for it; and in that way Swamy too had been granted leave of absence.

But of course, once he had become a pest abroad, the government tightened the screws and refused to grant him further leaves, and the time was approaching when he would forfeit his membership by these absences. It was Swamy’s plan to enter India, appear in the Rajya Sabha, record his presence and then vanish if he could. To our surprise, he actually managed that.

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