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Animosity between PC, Swamy spans decades
MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 27th Nov 2011

P. Chidambaram

t was 1977 and the Janata Party had astonished media pundits by coming to power on the distaste created by the Emergency for the Congress party. A slim lawyer from Tamil Nadu shyly came up to the Stormy Petrel of the period, Subramanian Swamy, who had just been elected to the Lok Sabha from Bombay, the city his Parsi wife Roxna regarded as home. During the Emergency, Swamy had stealthily entered Parliament House, quickly signed the attendance register, and vanished before policemen could apprehend him. Swamy was, because of his opposition to the Emergency, one of that period's Most Wanted.

Although regarded with less than affection by A.B. Vajpayee, he was a favourite of Morarji Desai, and had come back to India after giving up a teaching career at Harvard. Palaniappan Chidambaram, the lawyer from Tamil Nadu, was one of the editors (together with N. Ram of the Hindu) of the Radical Review, a left publication strongly in favour of nationalisation of private assets (the Hindu and the Chidambaram family's assets presumably excluded). Chidambaram reminded Swamy that he was one of his appreciative Harvard pupils, only to get a cold stare from the newbie celebrity, and a "who are you?" look

Although it failed with Swamy, Chidambaram's youth and clipped accent, so different from the denizens of Mylapore or Egmore, impressed Rajiv Gandhi. He was inducted into the Central Council of Ministers in 1984, as Minister of State in the Home Ministry, no less. Some of his joy at the elevation in his status was probably tempered by the sight of the forgetful Harvard professor, who seemed to have won the affection of the PM to an even greater degree than Chidambaram. What was Swamy doing, meeting the PM? Discreet warnings about the opposition element who had "opposed Indira Gandhi" had little effect on Rajiv Gandhi, who liked to surround himself with those who had taken a political line different from that of the Congress party. Swamy continued to meet with the PM regularly, and even do secret missions for him, tasks that were not confided to the Minister of State by either Swamy or the PM.

The situation was made intolerable for Chidambaram by (the then Rajya Sabha MP) Swamy raising the Hashimpura massacre in Parliament in 1987. The killing of more than 40 Muslim youth by the UP Provincial Armed Constabulary had sickened the nation, and both officials as well as politicians sought to distance themselves from the foul deed. Swamy did not allow Chidambaram such a luxury. He accused the minister of doing an "aerial reconnaissance" of the killing field, the implication being that the lawyer-turned-politician was behind the massacre. This was crossing a huge red line, and it was dangerous to be so foolhardy with Chidambaram, whose memory for slights rivals that of a Pathan tribal elder.

Subramanian Swamy

Although on the record, backers of the current Union Home Minister deny any role in Swamy's travails, others claim that Chidambaram waited for an opportunity to strike back. He was clearly patient, holding his fire when Swamy briefly became Commerce Minister in the Chandrashekhar government. The Tamil Nadu politician, whether because of the presence within it of Swamy or not, was one of the most persistent advocates of the Congress party withdrawing support to Chandrashekhar, advice that Rajiv Gandhi finally took in 1991, forcing the election that caused him his life.

Palaniappan Chidambaram is aware that he is a gift of nature to humanity, and is generous with advice to acolytes. It must rankle that Swamy has never, not even once, turned to him for guidance. To Chidambaram's chagrin, although he was Minister of State for Commerce with independent charge in the Narasimha Rao ministry, Swamy was made chairman of the GATT Commission set up to assist in the negotiations with that international trade body. Worse, he was given Cabinet rank, a slight that Chidambaram held against Rao thereafter, finally breaking with the PM in 1996 in the company of his old benefactor, Govindaswamy Karuppiah Moopanar. When H.D. Deve Gowda formed a government in 1996, Chidambaram became the Union Finance Minister.

Soon afterwards, a chance presented itself to send Subramanian Swamy to jail. The stormy petrel of Emergency days had taken over in 1997 as chairman of a trust set up by "spiritual guru" Chandraswamy, after Dr P.C. Reddy (the founder of the Apollo Group) resigned after Chandraswamy was targeted by the Finance Ministry for FERA violations, the godman's real offence being his closeness to one of Chidambaram's betes noire, former Prime Minister Rao. Although Swamy had just been inducted into the trust, and therefore had no role in any of the transactions being investigated, an arrest warrant was issued for him. Was it to be checkmate? Would Chidambaram succeed where Indira Gandhi had failed during the Emergency? Unfortunately for him, before Swamy could be arrested, Prime Minister Deve Gowda learnt of the warrant, and got it cancelled. Till recently, Swamy had been Gowda's nominal boss as president of the Janata Party, of which Gowda had been the Karnataka state boss, till he quit to join hands with the Janata Dal.

While Chidambaram may be a Pathan in his outlook, Subramanian Swamy is Sicilian. Soon after escaping from the prospect of jail in 1997, he filed a complaint against Chidambaram, alleging that the Finance Minister had misused his position to get promoters shares in Fairgrowth, an investment subsidiary of a nationalised bank. The Delhi High Court issued notice to the minister, who admittedly had been allotted the shares. However, masterful arguments by counsel Arun Jaitley led to the court asking Swamy for a fresh complaint, because of a technicality. Fortunately for Chidambaram, the Lok Sabha elections took place soon afterwards, in 1998, and Swamy lost interest in pursuing the case. Litigation is a full-time job in India, not a task one can attempt in one's spare time.

Although there were rumours that Chidambaram would join the BJP in 2003, a year later he re-emerged as Finance Minister in the Congress-led government headed by Manmohan Singh. From that lofty perch, he could perhaps afford to ignore Private Citizen Swamy, who by the 1999 polls was out of both government as well as Parliament. However, the converse was not true, especially after 2008, when a group of Telecom Ministry officials secretly called on Swamy at his New Delhi residence and gave him details of what they claimed was massive fraud in the allocation of 2G spectrum. By the beginning of 2011, Swamy became convinced that the scam had been perpetrated by both Raja and Chidambaram, with the Congress stalwart being the "senior partner". According to Swamy, it was Chidambaram who told Raja about the escape route that the companies that had been allocated spectrum could take to get over the three year lock-in period. Rather than sell the spectrum, they could sell the entire company, and thereby the spectrum.

as Chidambaram told in writing by then Home Minister Shivraj Patil about security concerns regarding Etisalat and Telenor, the two foreign companies that bought two of the Indian entities that had been given 2G spectrum by A. Raja sans an auction? Are there minutes of meetings between Raja and Chidambaram that show that the decisions taken were arrived at jointly, rather than (as numerous media plants claim) Chidambaram opposing Raja? Swamy says yes. On 26 August 2011, Swamy went to the Supreme Court asking for Chidambaram to be included as a culprit in the 2G scam. The very next day, the Crime Branch of the Delhi police (which directly reports to the Home Ministry, headed by Chidambaram since 2008) registered an FIR against Swamy for an article that he had written in DNA. The game of Catch between the two Tamil politicians thus goes on, so far with neither man succeeding in sending the other to jail.

 
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