I mean what I say, says India's Donald Trump

Mr Swamy has upset Muslims in India by saying they should not get to vote unless they acknowledge their Hindu ancestry.
Mr Swamy has upset Muslims in India by saying they should not get to vote unless they acknowledge their Hindu ancestry.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI • He's been called India's Donald Trump: a media-savvy right-wing populist who is unafraid of upsetting everyone from the ruling elite to religious minorities as he rails against corruption.

And after returning to Parliament following a 15-year absence, Mr Subramanian Swamy says he won't temper his shoot-from-the-hip style that has made him one of India's most popular, if divisive, politicians.

"The country's mood has changed, like in America," the 76-year-old told AFP in an interview at his home in New Delhi. "You know Donald Trump - I would never have thought that a politician in the US could even get out of the first round (of the presidential primaries) with the kind of bluntness that he has shown.

"But people now want to know the truth and I have established that what I say I mean, I mean what I say. People come up to me in airplanes and other places and they want to shake hands, take a selfie and say that we like you very much because you tell us the truth."

A Harvard alumnus, Mr Swamy entered Parliament as an elected member of the Lower House in 1977 and served as law minister from 1990 to 1991. After a lengthy absence from Delhi's corridors of power, he was nominated to the Upper House last month with the backing of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It gave him a new platform to flay the likes of opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, whom he has ridiculed as an idiot, and tell central bank chief Raghuram Rajan to "go back to Chicago" where he was a finance professor.

His irreverent social media posts have brought him 2.64 million Twitter followers, more than four times Mr Gandhi's following. His supporters say his campaigning over the corrupt allocation of telecoms licences a decade ago helped put one government minister behind bars. More recently, he has been asking awkward questions about a controversial deal to purchase military helicopters from the Italian company Agusta.

He has said Muslims - who account for around 14 per cent of the population - should be stripped of their right to vote unless they acknowledge their Hindu ancestry.

Writing in The Hindustan Times, author Manu Joseph said Mr Swamy's hardline stance towards Muslims and the Gandhi family mean he is "surely the Trump of India". Both men had benefited from the feeling "that political correctness has become despotic and stifling", he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'I mean what I say, says India's Donald Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe