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Swamy vs Jethmalani: Who’s The Bigger Rebel?

Subramanian Swamy and Ram Jethmalani - an unfair comparison of who is the bigger rabble rouser. 

Published
Politics
4 min read
Swamy vs Jethmalani: Who’s The Bigger Rebel?

Subramanian Swamy and Ram Jethmalani are the battering rams of Indian law and politics. They’re both anti-establishment and politically incorrect politicians. They’re both powerful voices when in opposition and absolute liabilities for their party, the BJP, when in power. They both played a pivotal role in unseating the Congress and they’ve turned the screws on their own party.

At 91, Jethmalani is believed to be the most expensive lawyer in the country whose last victory was Jayalalithaa’s acquittal. And the man who put the AIADMK chief on the stand, is none other than Subramanian Swamy. A mathematician, he broke bad in Indian politics during the Emergency and has haunted the Gandhi family since.

Swamy On The Offensive

It would be unfair to compare their achievements but just for fun, let’s take a crack at it.

2G hero Subramanian Swamy at an anti-corruption conference in February 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
2G hero Subramanian Swamy at an anti-corruption conference in February 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

1. National Herald Case
The curse, as we said, is still alive. Subramanian Swamy filed a case against Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others alleging illegality in the acquisition of the National Herald. Swamy alleged the Gandhis had committed fraud and grabbed land worth Rs 16 billion. A trial court even summoned the Gandhis, but their lawyer Kapil Sibal was able to successfully argue against the legality of the court summons in the Delhi High Court.

2. 2G
The alpha-numeric spelt the beginning of the end of the UPA. In a sensational move, Subramanian Swamy dragged a sitting Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh to court, saying it was impossible that he was not aware of his Telecom Minister A Raja’s allegedly illegal actions in the 2G auction.

He was also responsible for crippling the DMK by dragging party patriarch Karunanidhi’s wife Dayalu Ammal, daughter Kanimozhi and blue-eyed boy A Raja to court. In fact, it was a massive psychological blow to Tamil Nadu’s first family when Raja and Kanimozhi were remanded to the Tihar jail for roughly 15 months.

Importantly, Swamy’s petition resulted in the scrapping of the 122 telecom licenses that were allocated when Raja was Telecom Minister.

Swamy also tried to make the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram a co-accused in the 2G case, but failed to seek the court’s approval.

3. Swamy vs CBI
Subramanian Swamy also fought the CBI in court. He petitioned against a provision that made it impossible for the CBI to investigate bureaucrats of Joint Secretary and above rank without permission of the government. While this sought to expose corrupt babus, it was also partially responsible for the “fear psychosis” in Indian bureaucracy. Files were pushed, but not cleared. Which in turn led to the “policy paralysis” that is believed to have brought down the UPA.

4. Jayalalithaa DA case
19 years ago, Swamy filed a complaint against Jayalalithaa alleging she accumulated wealth disproportionate to her known income during her first stint as Chief Minister between 1991 to 1996. The AIADMK Chief was recently acquitted by the Karnataka High Court. But Swamy is preparing to challenge the reportedly flawed judgement in the Apex Court.

5. Hashimpura Massacre
Long before Swamy was advocating Muslim disenfranchisement, in 1987, he sat on a fast unto death for an inquiry into the killing of 42 Muslim youth in riot-hit Meerut. Recently he sought further investigation in Chidambaram’s role in the incident. The move was vehemently opposed by the victims’ lawyer who claimed it was politically motivated.

The move flies in the face of the Harvard paper he wrote in 2012. He proposed rather radical ways to deal with Islamic terror which could’ve fanned communal tension. More recently, his party, the BJP distanced itself from Swamy for saying that mosques were not religious places, but buildings which could be demolished any time.

Deliberate headlining acts like these are synonymous with Subramanian Swamy. For him, there exists no such thing as bad publicity.

There really is no such thing as bad publicity.

6. Nataraja Temple Case
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the temple priests would retain the right to administer the ancient Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram. Swamy championed the cause of the temple priests till the case reached its logical conclusion in January last year.

Ram Jethmalani and Baba Ramdev, who has, ironically, been accused of stashing black money in foreign banks by the Congress, during an anti-corruption rally (Photo: PTI)
Ram Jethmalani and Baba Ramdev, who has, ironically, been accused of stashing black money in foreign banks by the Congress, during an anti-corruption rally (Photo: PTI)

Ram Jethmalani On The Defensive

While Swamy has gone on the offensive in Court, Ram Jethmalani has remained on the defensive. He has successfully defended the indefensible and it’s not for nothing that he’s still the most sought after criminal lawyer in the country. He defended Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, LK Advani, Amit Shah, Kanimozhi, Lalu Prasad, Haji Mastan and even Asaram Bapu.

Ram Jethmalani posed 12 questions to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on his official Twitter handle and followed it up with a fiery speech in the Rajya Sabha
Ram Jethmalani posed 12 questions to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on his official Twitter handle and followed it up with a fiery speech in the Rajya Sabha

Black Money Case
But his biggest contribution to unravelling corruption is the Black Money case. He was at the forefront of a writ petition that sought to bring black money back to India. The high octane debate surrounding illegal money stashed in foreign banks dented the Congress’ attempts to rise above the “corrupt” tag.

The BJP suspended Jethmalani for demanding Nitin Gadkari’s removal as party president after he was accused of corporate malpractices. On the warpath, the senior lawyer has now turned the black money heat on his own government.

Some would regard Swamy and Jethmalani as failed politicians, but no one can possibly dispute the fact that their actions have steered the course of contemporary Indian political history.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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