by Venky Vembu Nov 2, 2012
When you’re a one-man army pitted against a sophisticated war machine, going to conventional battle, where you can be outgunned and outnumbered, is a bit of a mug’s game. Which is why the wily warrior chooses the battleground where he has a natural advantage, and tries to ensnare his enemies in his parlour, so to speak.
Subramanian Swamy, who has for long been waging a lonely battle against big-ticket corruption deploying the due process of law, on Thursday sounded the bugle to signal his latest guerrilla war effort. And this time, the political targets he has in his sights are not peripheral players in the UPA beehive, but the Queen Bee – Sonia Gandhi – herself, and her son Rahul Gandhi.
Subramanian Swamy. PTI
On Thursday, Swamy laid out what he said was prima facie evidence of mala fide transactions that underlay the acquisition by a private company called Young India (floated by Sonia Gandhi andRahul Gandhi under Section 25 of the Companies Act) of prime, high-value real estate in Delhi and other places owned by Associated Journals Ltd. Associated Journals was a public limited company floated by Congress leaders with public donation during the Indian freedom struggle to spread the message of the independence movement.
Swamy then furnished documents which purported to establish that the acquisition of Associated Journals was illegal on several counts, and that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were allegedly in technical violation of several laws. Indicatively, in his election affidavit in 2009, Rahul Gandhi had not declared his shareholdings in Young Indian, and could therefore have been in technical breach of election law. Likewise, Sonia Gandhi had also allegedly misused the government accommodation provided to her at 10, Janpath by permitting a shareholder meeting of Young Indian to be held at the premises.
For all the excitement that the micro-details of this case may give rise to in those with a keen interest in legal minutiae, the allegations seem extraordinarily tame compared to the over-the-top allegations we’ve come to expect from Subramanian Swamy, particularly when he gets his accusatory engine warmed up and he has Sonia Gandhi in his sights.
For instance, Swamy has in the past alleged, among other things, that Sonia Gandhi conspired with the LTTE to have Rajiv Gandhi assassinated, that Sonia Gandhi had KGB connections, and that Sonia Gandhi had conspired to delay medical attention for Indira Gandhi after the latter was shot by her Sikh security guards in 1984.
Even the headline number that Swamy invoked on Thursday as a measure of the land scandal involving Young Indian and Associated Journals—of the order of Rs 1,600 crore—is small change, as Beni Prasad Verma might say, considering that under the UPA’s watch, the bar for corruption in high places has been raised to lakhs of crores of rupees.
What accounts for the sudden diminution in the scale of allegations that Swamy is levelling against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi? Why have his horizons shrunk?
It appears that whereas Subramanian Swamy’s earlier allegations, involving elaborate and somewhat fantastic conspiracy theories, may have, for all the weight of circumstantial evidence that he marshalled, been intended as polemical muck-raking to score political points, this time, he is looking to draw Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi into a legal battle, on turf that he is rather more comfortable with.
For precisely the reason that Swamy’s earlier allegations were so over the top (and therefore easier to dismiss as the wild and fanciful imagination of a fevered mind), the latest charges, for all their chillar nature, sound more credible, particularly in an environment in which the lid has been blown off corruption in high places with recent damaging revelations about everyone, from Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra to BJP president Nitin Gadkari.
From all accounts, Swamy’s strategy of provoking Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to respond—unlike in times past—has already succeeded. A letter purporting to be from “Rahul Gandhi’s office” addressed to Swamy (but which made it to the media) says Rahul Gandhi reserves “all options”—including, presumably, the option to sue Swamy for defamation.
Which, ironically, is what Swamy wants: he would like nothing better to get Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the stand, where he can use his right as his own defence counsel to cross-examine them and pose all the embarrassing questions that he’s been shooting at them all these years, but which they have airily dismissed. In a court of law, however, it’s difficult to get away by sniffing snootily at embarrassing questions.
This accounts precisely for why all of Thursday evening, in his appearance on several television channels, Swamy has virtually been egging Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi to sue him for defamation.
“My advice for Rahul Gandhi,” Swamy said on one such channel stop, “is to grow up – and go to court.”
Chinese Internet entrepreneur Jack Ma (of Alibaba fame) used famously to liken himself to a crocodile in the Yangtze river: if he were to take on the global e-commerce giants, which were like sharks in the ocean, on their turf, he would lose, he said. “But if we fight in the swamps and marshes of the Yangtze river, we will win.”
Subramanian Swamy has likewise been looking to lure Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi out of 10 Janpath, from which comfortable cocoon they have thus far been engaging with the world on their terms. This time, he has offered them a juicy bait, with which he hopes to get them to venture into the turf where he enjoys territorial advantage: the court of law. The Ganges gharial is now lying in wait, hoping the sharks will stray into the bogs and marshes he knows so well.