Godman Chandraswami passes away
He was seen as one of former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s trusted aides.
Chandraswami, self-styled godman, political broker and astrologer to the powerful, rich and influential, dominated news headlines for almost three decades.
Then, in the mid-1990s, mired in a series of cases involving financial irregularities, violations of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, and allegations of being involved in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, he faded into oblivion.
On Tuesday, he died at the Apollo Hospital, at the age of 66, outside the arc lights, after a prolonged illness. His name is most closely associated with former Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and Chandrashekhar, but his circle of patrons included many others.
Born into a middle class family in 1948, Nemi Chand’s father, a money lender, was from Rajasthan’s Behror in Rajasthan. Starting out as a tantric and astrologer, he gradually came into contact with powerful Indian politicians.
In 1994, in his heyday, an account in India Today describes him sitting “resplendent on a stage smothered with bouquets, his eight rings aglow” celebrating his 46th birthday “at his sprawling new ashram in New Delhi.” The list of guests on that occasion included “former home minister Buta Singh, arm in arm with the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, leading a procession of Nirankari Sikhs and assorted swamis; Congress(I) leader H.K.L. Bhagat, escorted by Sikhs; BJP stalwarts such as the Rajmata of Gwalior; Congress(I) ministers S.B. Chavan and Kamal Nath; ministers in waiting such as N.D. Tiwari; and everybody’s new bogeyman, T.N. Seshan…Fireworks soared heaven-wards. Not quite nirvana, but certainly a dazzling example of political nirvana.”
The BJP’s Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who knew Chandraswami well, told The Hindu he had “acquired spiritual powers in the 1970s, meditating in Himachal Pradesh.” Soon after, he came in touch with his first political disciple, the late Congress leader Lalit Narain Mishra, followed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was “impressed” by him, the BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee (long before he became PM), Nanaji Deshmukh and Mr. Rao. He subsequently became a friend of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and ex-Congress MP Satish Sharma: the latter, Dr. Swamy said, never “disowned” Chandraswami even when he became controversial. “(Congress president) Sonia Gandhi and senior Congress leader Arjun Singh (who passed away some years ago), didn’t like Chandraswami and they blackened his name to get at Rao,” he said.
Dr. Swamy said he, too, became a good friend of Chandraswami but not in his capacity as a spiritual man, but as a “database of politics”: “He had a great intuition about people’s characters...He apprised me of who’s who in politics and was useful in my political life.”
But if Dr. Swamy described Chandraswami as “a good human being”, a veteran journalist who covered the Prime Minister’s Office through the 1980s and 1990s said: “He was a power broker and middleman who cultivated those holding high office and made money in the process. Rajiv Gandhi used Chandraswami to involve V.P. Singh in the St Kitts affair (that eventually was found to be without basis). He was instrumental in getting Chandrasekhar, when he was Prime Minister, to meet Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian businessman best known for his arms dealing, in Delhi.”
The journalist also described how not just politicians but ambitious bureaucrats and industrialists were drawn into his circle: “A former cabinet secretary told me that Chandraswami would himself get in touch with those in contention for a post, promise all and then extract his pound of flesh from the civil servant who finally got the job.”
Chandraswami’s friends abroad included apart from Khashoggi, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Sultan of Brunei, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa of Bahrain, the legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor and even underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.
In his book, Walking with Lions — Tales from a Diplomatic Past, senior Congress leader K. Natwar Singh gave a delightful account of how he was instrumental in bringing Chandraswami and Margaret Thatcher together. She was Leader of the Opposition and Chandraswami predicted that she would become Prime Minister – and she was hooked.