Dr Swamy: From Mathematical Economist to Public Interest leader par excellence

By Prof. R Vaidyanathan

Every time you talk or write about Dr Swamy –you find that there are so many areas you have not covered about him. He has been a Teacher, economist, mathematician, politician, rebel, crusader against black money, appreciated by Chinese/Israel and US leaders/ dog lover and looked at with awe and worry by his opponents.

When I joined Indian Statistical Institute [ISI] in the early seventies and came to know that Dr Swamy was an Alumnus my interest in him started. After his studies at The Hindu College where he was 3rd rank in the university he joined Indian Statistical Institute. I came to know that he was not afraid to criticise Mahalonobis the founder of ISI–about one of his papers.

It is to be remembered that Mahalanobis was the brain behind setting up of the Planning Commission, something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi after many decades in 2016 dismantled

He was the kind of person that no one –not a student under him- would want to question his research etc. But Dr Swamy was very good at crunching numbers and developing theories.

Dr Swamy’s famous paper ‘Notes on Fractile Graphical Analysis’ published in Econometrica, 1963 had questioned a Mahalanobis statistical analysis method as not being original but only a differentiated form of an older equation. That really pitched him as a giant killer in those early days.

Hendrik S Houthakker the American economist who was the referee for the paper published in Econometrica, recommended Swamy’s admission to Harvard. He had Rockefeller’s scholarship and completed his PhD in 2 and half years when he was 24. That was really a record. By 27 he was teaching at Harvard.

He co-authored a paper in 1974 on the theory of Index numbers with Dr Samuelson—the first American to get Nobel award in Economics- and it was a pioneering effort.

He then in 1975, wrote a book titled “Economic Growth in China and India, 1952–70: A Comparative Appraisal” which is considered as the most authoritative work on the subject. When someone challenged him to learn Mandarin –the tough language-in one year he learnt in 3 months. Till this day, Swamy is considered an authority on the Chinese Economy.

He met his future wife a Parsi woman –Ms.Roxana –at Harvard where she was doing her mathematics research. Later she studied law to practice in Supreme Court of India.

Then he was invited by Delhi school of economics –by Amartya Sen- to join Chinese studies as a Chair Professor. But when they at DSE learnt about his free market thinking and views on nuclear energy—changed their mind. They offered him a Readers job when he was already a Professor at Harvard which he rejected.

He joined IIT Delhi in 1969 from where he was expelled in 1972 by the then government for his anti-communist views. He wanted five year plans to be scrapped and argued in the seventies that India can grow at 10%. That was really far sighted since today everyone is talking the same.

In 1970 Indira Gandhi “dismissed” his economic views as that of a “Santa Claus with unrealistic ideas”The same views were to be implemented by Dr.Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister in 1992 under PVN Rao as PM. That is the irony of our politics and shows he was far ahead of his time.

After his expulsion from IIT Delhi he fought a court case and got re-instated in 1991. He joined for a day to prove his point before resigning.

He was invited by Nanaji Deshmukh the doyen of Indian politics to join Rajya Sabha in 1974. That changed his professorial life to that of a political leader.

When emergency was declared in 1975 he went underground –travelled extensively in USA to expose emergency. He made a dramatic appearance in Parliament—10th August 1976- to “condole the demise of democracy” and wanted obituary reference on the same. He immediately left the Parliament and disappeared. That electrified the entire opposition to Emergency for the “audacity” and Dare Devilry against Indira Gandhi.

Post emergency he was one of the founder member of Janata Party and he continued with the party till the party merged with BJP in 2013. From that angle he was never a party hopper.

He also had the unique distinction of being a cabinet rank member in P V Narasimhma Rao cabinet even though he did not belong to Congress. He was appointed by the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1994 as Chairman with Commission of Labour Standards and International Trade with a cabinet rank.

The other aspects about him pertaining to exposure of 2G scam or protection of Sethu Samudram project and National Herald case are recent and well known.

Not many knows that he was instrumental in removing the so called “Single directive” by which permission from  Government needed before CBI proceeds against any official.

Swamy took this in Supreme Court which struck down this clause giving investigating agencies freedom to act against possible culprits.

He was solely responsible for the opening up of Manasarover route to Indians after his meeting with Deng Xiaoping in 1981.

It is an interesting journey of the mathematician/economist as a public interest political leader.

His current journey as Rajya Sabha member will create tremors and put the fear of action in to the heart of the wrong doers.


Professor of finance at IIMB – views personal




  1. Vijay Kari · · Reply

    Wonderful. Thanks for the post Sir.

  2. Gokul B · · Reply

    Imagine a scenario with Dr Subramanian Swamy as the Finance Minister and Prof. Vaidhyanathan as the RBI Governor – it would be the most transformative and deadliest of all combos in world economic (and defence) history.

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