Senior BJP leaders indicated Friday that the party was “upset” with its Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy and that action could be taken against him if he did not stop his attacks on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and senior bureaucrats.
The leaders said that Swamy had overstepped the “limits of decency” while “weakening the foundations of the government” with his public criticism, including what could be construed as personal attacks against Jaitley.
On Friday, Swamy posted this tweet: “BJP should direct our Ministers to wear traditional and modernised Indian clothes while abroad. In coat and tie they look like waiters.” While he didn’t name any minister, the tweet came within minutes of TV channels beaming images of Jaitley wearing a coat and tie, meeting officials and business delegates in Beijing while on an official visit.
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On Thursday, Swamy had told reporters: “Jaitleyji kya bole, kya nahi bole isse mujhe kya lena dena (What do I have to do with what Jaitley says)? I speak to Prime Minister and the (BJP) party president when required.”
Sources in the party, including those who work closely with the RSS, said that Swamy’s diatribe against Jaitley, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian and Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das did not have the Sangh’s backing. “The BJP is wedded to a certain culture of discipline. You cannot make public statements like this. You can’t go after ministers like this,” said a senior party leader.
At least three BJP general secretaries favoured a “strong reaction” from the top leadership against Swamy, who has continued to target Jaitley in his tweets. A day after Jaitley tweeted in defence of bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry who were targeted by Swamy, the Rajya Sabha MP responded in a tweet: “People giving me unasked for advice of discipline and restraint don’t realise that if I disregard discipline there would be a bloodbath.”
Reacting to these attacks, a senior BJP leader said he was “pained”. “We can post tweets criticising him, too. But one cannot stoop to that level. We can no longer say that these are his personal views and that the party has distanced itself from him,” said the leader.
“His actions are beyond comprehension. The party leadership should warn him strongly,” said another BJP leader.
“The party should stand by its senior leaders. He (Swamy) has to be reined in because the party’s image is taking a beating,” said a third leader.
Swamy had last week claimed credit for RBI governor Raghuram Rajan’s announcement that he would leave the job in September, after levelling various allegations against him, including tweets saying he was “unfit for the job” and was “mentally not fully Indian”. He then turned against Subramanian and Das demanding their sacking from the government.
A senior BJP leader said Swamy’s criticism against Rajan “was well taken” because many in the party and the RSS felt that the RBI chief’s public statements on the economy was being seen as a criticism of the Narendra Modi government.
But the same leader was critical of Swamy’s continuing statements questioning the integrity of senior government functionaries. “If he has direct access to the Prime Minister, he could give his suggestions to him? Why should he tweet about them?,” the leader said.
Party leaders said Swamy was nominated to the Rajya Sabha recently because of the RSS. “The Sangh brought him in for a certain role which he has played effectively since 2004.” Swamy, who was the chief of Janata Party, merged his party with the BJP in August 2013.
The Opposition Congress, meanwhile, took a swipe at the ruling party on Swamy’s comments. “One could have laughed it off except for the fact it is having a tremendous impact…there is a crisis on with the Brexit vote today. In that view, we need an united leadership of the Finance Ministry. But it is a comedy theatre going on and the Prime Minister is not able to control Swamy,” said senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan.