They might all be renowned Tamil Brahmin economists with fancy foreign degrees but Subramanian Swamy, Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian have very little in common. Swamy is now more politician than economist, having been nominated this year to the Rajya Sabha by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Rajan is the outgoing Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, whose departure Swamy takes credit for. Subramanian is the current Chief Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and also Swamy's next target.
Swamy carried out a rather public campaign against Raghuram Rajan, calling him among other things an American agent, and insisting that he be removed from the RBI. This weekend, Rajan announced that he would be leaving the central bank when his tenure ends in September. His letter mentioned that Rajan had been "open" to sticking around for longer, but decided against it after consultation with the government.
Technically, Swamy is not part of this government. Yet that hasn't stopped him from taking credit for Rajan's departure.
No one in the government has necessarily come out to rebut this claim. While he was carrying out his anti-Rajan campaign, the only push-back against Swamy came when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said he did not appreciate the "personal attacks" on the RBI governor. The government hasn't otherwise made any official reference to the role Swamy played in the Rajan Saga.
Taking on Arvind Subramanian – one of the top contenders to replace Rajan as RBI Governor – isn't quite the same, which is why the BJP put out word on Wednesday that it does not endorse Swamy's attack.
There is one crucial difference in Swamy – a loose cannon who the BJP has used for its uncomfortable work – attacking Arvind Subramanian after taking on Rajan.
Raghuram Rajan was a United Progressive Alliance appointee. For better or for worse, it is a grand old Indian tradition that heads of institutions are shunted out when a new administration comes to power. There might have been an unsual expectation that Rajan might be given an extension, in part because of his record as well as his stature internationally, but it was not a surprise to see a UPA appointee making way for someone handpicked by the new government.
Subramanian, however, was appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October 2014 on the recommendation of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. He has put together two Economic Surveys since then, and his inputs have been crucial in the Budget building process (even if his extremely optimistic expectations have had to be seriously tempered).
Jaitley jumped to Subramanian's defence the very same day that Swamy announced his intention to go after the CEA. Speaking at a Cabinet Briefing, Jaitley said that the government trusts Subramanian and asked the question of whether politicians should be attacking those whose offices do not permit them to respond in kind.
There is a subplot to this: Swamy and Jaitley do not get along.
A large section of the Swamy's "Patriotic Tweeple" army believes that the Finance Minister is the most Congress-like player in Modi's Cabinet, and have long called for him to be removed. Swamy himself believes that Jaitley was responsible for stalling his entry into the party and the denial of a Lok Sabha ticket.
As recently as November last year, Swamy openly went after the Finance Minister, saying "if the government continues to follow Mr. Jaitley’s strategy, black money will not be recovered.” The rivalry did not go unmentioned when Swamy was nominated to the same House of Parliament where Jaitley is the leader.
The question is, where does it go from here? Swamy was not seriously censured for his attack on Rajan, and may even have gotten praise for it internally, which is why he announced his next targets immediately afterwards. But Jaitley is not going to take kindly to his own appointees being question, particularly in the rather crass manner that Swamy and his online army have a tendency to use. The BJP battles may be just beginning.