By Sugeeswara Senadhira
Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who attempted to raise the Indian National Flag on the island of Katchchathivu, to claim the island as Indian territory on 4 February 1988 is now back in the news, with his statement that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa ‘should become President soon’.
It cannot be said that the good old law professor, of world famous Harvard University, is not aware of the Sri Lankan Constitution that bars a President from contesting for a third term.
However, Dr Swamy knows how to be in the limelight always, whether he is right or wrong. “It is good to hear that Rajapaksa is making a strong comeback to Sri Lankan politics. He should become President soon,” he tweeted immediately after the declaration of results of the recently-concluded Local Government election. However, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution prevents Rajapaksa from contesting again in a Presidential election.
Dr. Swamy has a fascinating record, in his long fight against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her emergency rule; Chief Ministers Muthuvel Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa Jayaram; Shashikala and many others.
Swamy, came to prominence as the lone Tamil leader in the Jan Sangh Party, which later became the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As a sharp politician, he knew that he could not win a seat in Tamil Nadu and selected Bombay as his electorate. He could win in Bombay, now called Mumbai which has a sizable Tamil vote bloc and a solid Jan Sangh/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) support base.
During the emergency rule of Indira Gandhi, many leaders including Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and George Fernandez were arrested, Swamy went into hiding. The Congress Government declared that he would be unseated if he fails to attend Parliament for three months. On the 90th day of his absence from Lok Sabha, he made a dramatic entry to mark his presence in the House, and disappeared within minutes despite the presence of hundreds of policemen in the Parliament premises in a high security area with numerous road blocks.
Years later, Dr.Swamy narrated the aforesaid incident to a columnist at a meeting in New Delhi. “I made all the arrangements meticulously and kept a change of suit and a beard and a Sikh turban in a closet next to the Lok Sabha Chamber. I rushed into the closet made quick change with the help of friends and leisurely walked to the car park where the car was waiting with engine running. Before the word was out about my escape I was miles away,” he chuckled.
In the recent book titled “Evolving with Subramanian Swamy: A Roller Coaster Ride,” written by his wife Roxna Swamy, she has given details of his dramatic appearance in Parliament, and equally dramatic vanishing from the scene, in 1976, while as an absconder. She also revealed how he had escaped from the country and later came back secretly and how he entered his own residence deceiving security personnel, wearing a Sikh turban and a beard.
A rebel from a young age, Swamy who belonged to a traditional Tamil Brahmin family, got married to Roxna, a Parsi, who was a co-student at the Harvard University in 1966. In that era, in India, love marriages, especially between persons of such different religious, language and caste backgrounds, happened mostly in movies.
Initially, young Swamy was a vociferous supporter of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. He criticized Indira Gandhi for not invading Sri Lanka after the 1983 riots. In 1988, Swamy decided to take the dramatic action of hoisting the Indian flag in Katchchathivu; to become a hero in the eyes of Tamil Nadu voters, as he was not sure about the Mumbai electorate or the New Delhi electorate, where he contested later. His boat ride to Katchachathivu ended before commencing, as Police detained him; for the desired intention to violate Immigration Laws. New Delhi could not allow an illegal boat to leave for Katchchathivu, an island that belonged to Sri Lanka and its ownership conceded under the Border Agreement of 1974.
He was a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament from Bombay (Maharashtra) and Madurai (Tamil Nadu). After resigning from Jan Sangh due to differences and later with BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he joined the Janata Party of which he was the President until 2013 when the party merged with BJP. Now Swamy is an appointed MP in Rajya Sabha.
A determined rabble-rouser in Indian politics, Swamy was in an out of jail and has faced many threats to his life. Due to his crusade against Jayalalithaa’s Government in the State of Tamil Nadu, he faced not only harassment, but there was also an attempt on his life in 1993. A large number of defamation cases were filed against him by the Tamil Nadu state administration to harass him.
Although Swamy was sympathetic to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, he looked at the methods adopted by the LTTE as an impartial observer and became a major critic of the terrorist outfit. His objective attitude made him a friend of Sri Lanka and later he worked closely with the Sri Lanka High Commission officials. Swamy also attempted to broker a settlement regarding the Indian fishermen issue with Sri Lanka saying that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa must meet the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa for discussions.
Swamy was a regular visitor to Sri Lanka and was a speaker at a number of events in Colombo. In 2014 he urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to confer Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the Republic of India, to President Mahinda Rajapaksa under whose leadership the LTTE was eliminated.