Decoding the Jaitley-Swamy hatred: Is this all about who has Narendra Modi?

Perhaps Swamy simply wants Modi all to himself.
Decoding the Jaitley-Swamy hatred: Is this all about who has Narendra Modi?
Decoding the Jaitley-Swamy hatred: Is this all about who has Narendra Modi?

Let there be no mincing words here - Arun Jaitley and Subramanian Swamy despise each other. It is not just an instinctive dislike, but a full-bodied loathing that has had the luxury of time to ferment, marinate and assume a very sharp flavour.

The current tussle is bipolar in more ways than the BJP is willing to admit. On the one side is Arun Jaitley, easily the minister that Prime Minister Modi trusts above all others. On the other, it’s a fearless Dr. Subramanian Swamy, whose increasingly brazen directness is only matched by the BJP’s unwillingness to openly keep it in check.

And now, it’s now truly down to the dirty. What was once shadow boxing is now kick-boxing in the ring in front of an audience. What was once a largely rhetorical (and one-way) battle confined to innuendo on corruption and incompetence is now a two-way street. Not only has Arun Jaitley changed the game by responding directly to Subamanian Swamy’s serial attacks on Finance Ministry officials, but has even taken to Twitter to underscore that he will defend his men.

But even hard-nosed political watchers couldn’t have seen the sandlot quality that the current flashpoint has descended to. A sulking, simmering Swamy threatened a bloodbath if he was so much as tapped on the shoulder (a message to Modi & Shah?) and proceeded nimbly on to suggest that the BJP order its ministers to wear Indian clothes on official foreign tours, instead of coats & ties that made them look “like waiters”. This thinly veiled ad hominem perfectly encapsulates the childlike viciousness this fight has been allowed to descend to. Swamy regularly points such references to journalists, opposition leaders, academics and officials. But by flinging an effortless at a party colleague and minister, Arun Jaitley no less, he appears to be sending out a pretty straight message: I will not be touched.

The BJP has attempted to test the turbulence using the only way it knows -- by leaking to journalists that the leadership isn’t happy with Swamy’s conduct. This is frequently unverifiable and almost certainly doesn’t mean that Swamy has been “pulled up”. On the contrary, the increasing brazenness of Swamy’s attacks appears to suggest he is aware he probably never will be pulled up.

Arun Jaitley never wanted Subramanian Swamy in the party. He is known to the have been totally averse to the idea. His vocal dislike for “motormouths” extended from Subramanian Swamy to Kiran Bedi, who was made Delhi’s (ultimately disastrous) CM candidate despite his strong reservations. Jaitley believes personalities like Swamy and Bedi transcend intra-party democracy and put themselves above party. But in Swamy, the formidable Jaitley knows he has a formidable foe. That’s actually precisely why the current fracas is so absurd.

Ironically, both men are fully aware that the other isn’t entirely vulnerable. Jaitley know that for all his shenanigans, Swamy is owed. Swamy’s closeness and praise for Modi got him his unique place in the party. In 2012-2013, when the BJP was going through great tumult with the Purti allegations pointed at then party president Nitin Gadkari and subsequent Goa-Advani-Modi saga, Swamy was seen mediating valuably. He hasn’t allowed his relevance to dwindle since, focusing on both keeping himself in the headlines by ratcheting up attacks as well as continuing to be a nimble interface with saffron organisations, including sections of the RSS itself.

Those loyal to Arun Jaitley are fuming, though. They say that the chapter -- as far as Jaitley is concerned -- is closed for the moment. A close aide of the Finance Minister says Swamy’s heightened irritation could also be founded principally on “not wanting to share Modi”.

By openly declaring that he listens only to the Prime Minister and Amit Shah, Swamy appears to be suggesting something that is perhaps being missed. Perhaps Swamy simply wants Modi all to himself.

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