Why Modi needs Swamy as much as India needs Rajan
One wishes the national debate revolved around specific allegations, not competencies of either individual.
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When two people fight, we pick sides by force of habit. One of them is bound to be right and the other will be wrong, right? Wrong. Both can be wrong. Both can be right. That's the way it is, but we still blindly back one person and attack the other one.
That is what has happened after maverick BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy declared that Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan should be sacked. A war has already broken out on Twitter where Swamy supporters are telling Rajan to go while Rajan supporters are telling Swamy to go to hell. How personal things have become can be seen by just this one exchange:
Wrote US-based writer Sadanand Dhume in a column: Some party supporters appear genuinely appalled by Swamy's newfound prominence, but they keep mum out of fear. With some 2.7 million followers on Twitter, Swamy has the power to drag just about anyone into the social media gutter with him.
After a bitter exchange on Twitter, Swamy (@Swamy39) ended thus: PTs have done a terrific job of Dhoolai while giving Dhume a tour of the gutter. So he has taken new name: Gadhanand Dhule.
PTs have done a terrific job of Dhoolai while giving Dhume a tour of the gutter. So he has taken new name: Gadhanand Dhule— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) June 6, 2016
Such exchanges are a sign of our times where the core issue is always missed out and trivial ones are discussed which degenerate into a no holds barred fight.
But first, Swamy is not going anywhere because Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs him.
Modi is the strongest and most vocal opponent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. But so far Modi's deeds have fallen far short of his words. He doesn't seem to have taken direct action against the dynasty.
The only other BJP prime minister, AB Vajpayee, appeared to be totally in awe of the dynasty and even today most BJP leaders squirm in their seats at the thought of attacking Congress president Sonia Gandhi strongly.Arun Jaitley may be made the president of India, and Swamy his replacement at the finance ministry. If it happens, Rajan will go any way.
That's not the case with Swamy. He fought Indira Gandhi's Emergency in the 1970s and since the 1990s has been the biggest pinprick for Sonia. Swamy is the only person who has brought a case against the dynasty that has actually stood in court (Indira's case was thrown out after the Janata Party government goofed up big time by arresting her). In fact, both Sonia and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi are now squirming in the National Herald case.
The sessions court, high court and Supreme Court have all looked at it. No judge could dismiss it. It is a huge victory for Swamy and now also for Modi since the former is now part of the BJP.
Modi's other big image is that of anti-corruption. That's where Swamy fits the bill too. He ended the career of Karnataka chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde even though both of them were on the same side. He was instrumental in finishing off former telecom minister A Raja. Swamy's case sent Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa to jail and she is not off the hook yet.
Action by the Enforcement Directorate under Union finance minister Arun Jaitley hasn't led to any high profile convictions in the last two years. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has his image tarnished by Vyapam.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has been set back by the resignation of his state revenue minister Eknath Khadse. Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, for all his bluster of threatening to send Robert Vadra to jail, has done absolutely nothing yet.
So yet again, Swamy is the best bet for Modi.
Then there are issues related to Hindutva. Swamy has been a key person in the reopening of the Kailash Manasarovar pilgrimage route. He was involved in the scrapping of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project which would have destroyed the Ram Sethu to Sri Lanka which many Hindus believe was actually used by Lord Ram during the days of the Ramayan. Finally, Swamy is the most active prominent national Hindu leader on the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi front.
Modi is doing well on governance and development where he is ably supported by the likes of power minister Piyush Goyal, infrastructure minister Nitin Gadkari and railways minister Suresh Prabhu. But on the above-mentioned points there appears to be a vacuum and Hindutva voters are extremely restless with Modi. The prime minister relies heavily on Swamy to counter that.
Now let's come to the post of the RBI governor. Unlike the post of prime minister, there's not much that an RBI governor can do. A prime minister may steer his country Left (Jawaharlal Nehru), then Right (PV Narasimha Rao) and then Left again (Manmohan Singh). However, the global banking and financial system is a slow moving monolith and no one man may change it. You don't need a maverick but a colourless and really competent bureaucrat to keep the machinery running smoothly.
That's where Rajan fits the bill perfectly. For those who don't know, Rajan was the youngest chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He is an IIT alumnus and did his PhD in banking from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Rajan is the first recipient of the Fischer Black Prize.
India is going through rapid economic transition and increasing its footprint in the global economy. Rajan looks good to help take India to the next level.
Rajan is also a member of the elite Group of Thirty (G30) which Wikipedia defines as: An international body of leading financiers and academics which aims to deepen understanding of economic and financial issues and to examine consequences of decisions made in the public and private sectors related to these issues.
As you can see, both Swamy and Rajan have their uses and the current debate has degenerated into whether they are useful or useless.
Nobody seems to be discussing the central issue head on. It's not whether Rajan has the right qualifications for the job (which he definitely has) but the allegations that Swamy has hurled at him.
Swamy has accused Rajan of allowing Sharia-compliant financial institutions into the country against RBI guidelines. He has accused Rajan of leaking "confidential and sensitive" information out of the country. Swamy has accused Rajan of helping Karti (former home and finance minister P Chidambaram's son) in the Aircel-Maxis case. Finally, Swamy has raised the issue of the ethics of a US Green Card holder holding the post of RBI governor.
Now these are very serious allegations. All media houses have to do is to investigate and find out if any of these charges are true or not. Modi is probably doing the same.
Is Swamy right?
If he is, then Rajan must go.
If he is not, then Swamy is way out of line and should apologise to Rajan and be admonished by Modi.
The problem is that all of Swamy's allegations at first appear totally outlandish and he seems to be talking grade one nonsense. But quite a lot of what he says actually holds up in court. Just ask Raja, Jaya, Sonia or Rahul.
One wishes that the national debate revolved around these specific allegations instead of their respective competencies. That debate will go nowhere because as mentioned before, India needs Rajan and Modi needs Swamy.
Of course there's a wild card: the impending Cabinet reshuffle. There are wild rumours of sending HRD minister Smriti Irani as the chief ministerial candidate for Uttar Pradesh and Jaitley being considered for president of India. If the latter happens then we could have a new finance minister. And if that happens to be Swamy, then Rajan goes any way.
Otherwise, we could well see Swamy and Rajan sparring for a few more years and regular Twitterstorms entertaining us all on a regular basis.