Every time you write off Subramanian Swamy, like the mythical phoenix bird, he reinvents himself from the very flames that others think he burnt down with.
Teacher, economist, mathematician, politician, rebel, crusader, dog lover, all this and much more, this Tam Braham (Tamil Brahmin) was born into a family of intellectuals, which he himself described as “a long line of fighting Brahmins’.
Not one to let go a fight and not one who forgets easily, survivor and loner, Swamy has bounced back to cast an imprint on contemporary history that few individuals in India can lay claim to.
Here’s a compilation of facts that most Indians don’t know about this tough guy:
1. His Father Was a Well Known Mathematician
Swamy was born in Mylapore, Chennai on Sept 15, 1939.
His father, Sitaram Subramanian was at one time director of the Central Statistical Institute.
2. He Graduated in Mathematics from Hindu College (Finished 3rd in DU)
It was in the very stars that he was born under. He was not six months old, when his mathematician father Sitaram Subramanian, in 1940, changed jobs and moved from Chennai (then Madras) to Delhi, the seat of power.
Swamy graduated from the prestigious Hindu College in B.A. (Hon.), finishing 3rd in the Delhi University.
3. Enrolled at Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata for Post Graduation
From Delhi, the seat of power, Swamy moved to Kolkata (then Calcutta) for PG studies. It was going to be his first battle ground.
4. Director of the Institute Happened to a be Professional Rival of Swamy’s Father
The institute at that time was headed by PC Mahalanobis who happened to be a professional rival of Swamy’s father. So when Mahalanobis learnt about Swamy, the latter began to get lower grades. Too bad (for Mahalanobis).
Mahalanobis was the brain behind setting up of the Planning Commission, something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi after many decades intends to dismantle.
He was the kind of person that no one (at least not someone studying at his institute) would want to develop animosity with.
5. Swamy Taught the Big Guy a Lesson
Swamy’s ability at crunching numbers and postulating theories, pitched him against PC Mahalanobis.
His 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, was an early expression of the rebel that Swamy is, a trait that has found expression both as an intellectual and as a politician.
6. Got a Recommendation for Harvard
Having demonstrated his ability for research, Hendrik S Houthakker, the American economist who was the referee for the paper published in Econometrica, recommended Swamy’s admission to Harvard.
7. Completed PhD from Harvard at 24
Backed by a full Rockefeller scholarship, in two and a half years, Swamy at 24 completed his PhD.
At Harvard, having cut his teeth in mathematics in the early 1960s and armed with a doctorate at 24 years of age, by 27 he was a teacher at Harvard.
8. Co-Authored a Paper with the 1st American Who Won Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
Swamy co-authored a paper on theory of index numbers with Paul Samuelson. The paper was published in 1974.
9. Became an Expert on the Chinese Economy
In 1975, Swamy wrote a book titled “Economic Growth in China and India, 1952–70: A Comparative Appraisal”
He learnt Chinese/Mandarin in just 3 months (when someone challenged him to learn this tough-language-to-learn in a year).
Till this day, Swamy is considered an authority on the Chinese economy and especially comparative analysis of Indian and China.
10. Got an Invite from Amartya Sen to Join DSE (Delhi School of Economics)
As an advocate of free markets economy, much before Manmohan Singh’s 1991 budget made it fashionable, Swamy’s market friendly views after moving from Harvard to Delhi School of Economics in 1968 were simply too radical and not palatable with Indira Gandhi’s socialist ‘Garibi Hatao’ India slogans.
Anyhow, Swamy accepted Amartya Sen’s offer.
The position earmarked for a young academician with market friendly views was a full professorial chair on Chinese studies.
But, by the time he traveled from Harvard to DSE, other traveler academics at the famed institute had changed their views on Swamy.
He was just offered a Reader’s rank at DSE. A sharp U-turn.
Students backed Swamy.
11. Moved to IIT in 1969
Swamy taught economics to students at the IIT.
He would often meet students at the hostels and discuss political and international views.
By now, Swamy had made a name for himself.
He suggested that India ought to do away with Five Year Plans and stop relying on foreign aid.
According to him, it was possible to achieve 10% growth.
12. Indira Took Note of Swamy in 1970
Indira, one of India’s most powerful prime ministers, in a 1970 budget debate dismissed Swamy as a “Santa Claus with unrealistic ideas.”
This was probably the first that a national leader of her stature had gone to the extent of directly mimicking Swamy’s ideas.
Swamy continued with his work nonetheless.
13. Establishment Goes After Swamy
The hostility cost him his IIT job from where he was unceremoniously sacked in December 1972.
Swamy in 1973 sued the prestigious institute for wrongful dismissal. He won the suit in 1991 and to prove his point, he joined only for a day before resigning.
14. Political Inning Began in 1974
With a young wife, a new born daughter and no job, Swamy was contemplating heading back to America when fate intervened and launched him into politics.
A phone call by Jan Sangh stalwart Nanaji Deshmukh picking Swamy to represent the party in the Rajya Sabha had him elected to parliament in 1974.
15. Dared the Establishment during the Emergency Days
Independence and the gross human tragedy that unfolded after partition, was something that a young Swamy saw up close. He was witness to the partition survivors’ daily struggle taking place just outside the family’s government allotted house at Turkman Gate, Delhi.
The emergency (1975-77) made a political hero out of him. Swamy defied and evaded arrest warrants for the entire 19 month period.
His most daring act during emergency was coming into India from America, breaking through security cordons of parliament, attending a Lok Sabha session on 10th August 1976, managing to slip out of parliament, escaping from the country and returning to America.
16. Founding Member of the Party that Won Elections after Emergency
Swamy was one of the founding members of the Janata Party that swept the Indira Gandhi emergency regime out of power in 1977.
Though the party splintered but Swamy stuck on and was its president since 1990 till the party was merged with BJP in 11 August, 2013. Opposition often joked about him heading Janta Party as being a general without an army. But, he has been that way for a long time.
17. Swamy’s Blueprint – A Guiding Light for Manmohan Singh in Early 1990s
As the country’s commerce and law minister during Chandra Shekhar’s brief term as Prime Minister in 1990-91, Swamy laid the foundations of economic reforms in India by creating a blue print.
The same blue print was later picked up by finance minister Manmohan Singh under Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to deliver the country of Nehruvian socialism.
18. Given a Cabinet Rank When in Opposition
Being president of Janta Party and an opposition leader, Swamy has the distinction of being handed out a cabinet rank by the ruling party.
Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1994 appointed Swamy as Chairman with Commission of Labor Standards and International Trade with a cabinet rank.
19. An Academician Turned Lawyer
Contrary to what most Indians believe, Swamy, as pointed out above, is a mathematician by education.
It was the turn of events in his life that turned him to politics and law.
20. Played a Crucial Role in Exposing 2G Scam
After a long hibernation, Swamy writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008 seeking permission to prosecute A Raja over illegal allotment of mobile spectrum bands unraveled the colossal 2G Scam.
21. Made it Possible for Indians to Access the Kailash Mansarovar
Subramanian Swamy played an important role in making it possible for people of Hindu faith in India to access the Kailash Mansarovar religious pilgrimage route.
To make it happen, he had met Deng Xiaoping China’s top guy of the time (April 1981).