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February 18, 1999


The sacking of Guruswamy -- III

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Part I

Part II

On 24 January, Sinha sent for Guruswamy. The meeting was short. ''Enough is enough. I think we should call it a day,'' Sinha told Guruswamy. It was decided that the finance minister and his OSD could not get on and as friendly a parting as possible should be effected. No questions were asked, no explanations sought.

Guruswamy was to leave for the US for the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited disinvestment roadshow on January 31. Sinha was to go to Davos for the meeting of the World Economic Forum on January 30. It was agreed that on his return, Guruswamy would put in his papers.

However, word got out that something was up. Sinha's media Man Friday S K Rao told him worriedly that he was getting calls asking whether Guruswamy had quit. No such thing, Sinha told him, not wanting to embarrass a senior colleague, by anticipating his resignation.

Sinha returned from Davos on February 1 and drove straight from the airport to a meeting of the coordination committee. He had no time to look at his mail on February 2 either. On the evening of February 3, he began getting calls. Mohan Guruswamy had resigned and his resignation letter was on all the wires.

Sinha then rifled through his desk and found a letter dated January 27. Instead of handing over his resignation to the minister, Guruswamy had quit on January 27, held back the letter, gone ahead with his plans to go to the United States at government expense as a government representative, and released his resignation to the newspapers at a time when he knew Sinha would be in town.

Nor was this a two-line ''thank-you-very-much-I-cherish-our-association'' kind of letter. This was an indictment, not just of the government Guruswamy had served, but of the man who had given him the job.

Guruswamy said he was disgusted with everything the BJP stood for: apart from being murderers of missionaries, it was a party of inefficient, self-serving, narrow-minded bigots, who would not accept any of the revolutionary steps he had suggested for the reform of the capital markets, appointments of board and bank chairmen, etc.

At about 10 pm, an angry empire hit back. In a brief notification, newspapers were told that Mohan Guruswamy, officer on special duty in the ministry of finance, had been relieved of his charge for ''exceeding his brief''.

If it had been anyone else, it would have been safe to say that it was a cabal of bureaucrat-bankers which hounded a professional out because its turf was threatened. But the fact is that Guruswamy was given the job, not because he was a brilliant professional but because everyone thought he would functions as the minister's ideas man.

It was not L K Advani, as is widely believed, who pressurised the government to have Guruswamy appointed. Nor was it the Swadeshi Jagran Manch led by S Gurumurthy and others, who felt Guruswamy would be their man in the finance ministry (in fact, when he was given the job, the SJM magazine strongly criticised Yashwant Sinha for the appointment).

It was actually the so-called BJP media cell, comprising a few journalists who went from ministry to ministry -- first to finance and then to home --pushing for Guruswamy.

Sinha did not object to Guruswamy because he knew him (the two had met in 1984 as lieutenants of Chandra Shekhar). But clearly not well enough. Even in 1984, Guruswamy's independent-mindedness and ambition had led him into trouble. Chandra Shekhar, then heading the Janata Party, was fond of the outspoken and sometimes brash young man, who had an opinion on everything. But he spotted a strong streak of ruthless ambition in Guruswamy right off and the latter then drifted away from him.

The break came over a trivial matter. Then general secretary of the Janata Party, Bapu Kaldate, walked into Chandra Shekhar's room one day and found Guruswamy sitting on Chandra Shekhar's chair. He asked Guruswamy what he was doing and the latter replied that the party president's chair was not the "Singhasan of Vikramaditya -- anyone can sit in it".

Kaldate reported the matter to Chandra Shekhar and when he asked Guruswamy, the latter's reply was the same. Chandra Shekhar then explained that it was not Guruswamy's action which worried him, it was his stance. That was the end of that association. Guruswamy parted company from Chandra Shekhar, bitterly angry.

He then hitched his star to V P Singh, having worked briefly in the Sriram group, for Siddharth Sriram, then a young entrepreneur. He dabbled in defence writing for some years. When he came to the finance ministry, he had the advantage of being on first-name terms with the minister, as well as having unimpeded access to him.

But Guruswamy never hid his light under a bushel. His demeanour was calculated to give visitors an impression that he was second to none, not even the finance minister. Bureaucrats found it irksome to be interrupted in meetings, as the OSD walked in without so much as a by-your-leave, and proceeded to hold forth. On more than one occasion, notes put up for the finance minister were reproduced in newspapers without Sinha even having discussed the matter.

Sinha, the most decent of all politicians, is reluctant to talk about the Guruswamy episode because it is tantamount to admitting that he was wrong in his judgement of the man. But it is clear that he feels betrayed: for, while he believed Guruswamy was his friend, all Guruswamy was intent upon proving was that he was the super finance minister. It was an unequal relationship. It has ended.

Courtesy: Sunday magazine

Mystery shrouds Guruswamy's exit from finance ministry


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