Sharad Pawar has proved that he is a rare politician with the power of personal friendships cutting through the political spectrum that can help script an alliance of opposites. There are very few such personalities in Indian politics that can reach out and be trusted by all sides to be architects of difficult alliances.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a politician, like Pawar in a quest for power and position, to be alliance makers.
The late actor-journalist Srinivasa Iyer Ramaswamy, better known as Cho Ramaswamy, scripted several pre poll alliances in Tamil Nadu in the last three decades. He did not do it for power or position, but because he believed it was right and he did it with his legendary wit!
In 1996, late Cho Ramaswamy played a key role in bringing together an opposition alliance against AIADMK supremo and then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa.
Cho was a personal friend to Jayalalithaa from her days as an actor. But that did not stop him from opposing her vociferously when her first tenure as chief minister (1991-96) turned into an authoritarian and corrupt display of power.
Cho – Alliance Maker Par Excellence
He was THE interlocutor between late M Karunanidhi, then president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and G K Moopanar, the veteran Congress leader who split from the Congress to launch his Tamil Maanila Congress.
Instrumental in negotiating seat-sharing between the DMK and TMC, it was Cho’s shrewd negotiation that got the alliance together and Moopanar an equal sharing deal – 20 parliamentary seats each, with the DMK.
Cho is also believed to have played a proactive role in getting super star Rajnikanth to issue a public statement against J Jayalalithaa in 1996. Rajini had famously declared then that “No one could save the state if Jayalalithaa returned to power” and that was his first public indulgence in politics.
1996 was not a one-off election when Cho had played a key role in shaping alliances in the state.
Each election had a Cho story to it and it could be on any side of the political divide. He was never blinded by the past or his personal friendships.
In 1999, he was instrumental in bringing the DMK together in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and in 2001, the same Cho helped forge an alliance between G K Moopanar and J Jayalalithaa. This, despite being nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP when the NDA was in proximity to the BJP.
Thuglak: A Platform That Silenced None, Spared None
Thuglak, the magazine Cho founded in 1970 was a platform that carried his political views and assessment of socio-political issues. His legendary wit reflected in every answer he gave to questions from readers and even those he had criticised, M Karunanidhi or J Jayalalithaa included, had to concede their admiration for him.
In his last decade, Cho was a vociferous supporter of Narendra Modi and one of the first voices advocating that he be made the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. As chief minister of Gujarat, Mr Modi had attended the annual reader conference of Cho’s Thuglak magazine twice – in 2008 and 2012. In fact, Cho played a key role to build a friendship between J Jayalalithaa and Mr Modi.
In the 2008 event, Cho invited Narendra Modi to the Stage by introducing him as “The Merchant of Death” and then paused before declaring that he was the Merchant of Death to “Corruption, Nepotism, inefficiency etc. It was a dig on the “Maut Ka Saudagar” comment made by Sonia Gandhi during the 2007 Gujarat election campaign.
As much as his political opponents would hate it, it’s difficult not to enjoy the legendary Cho wit and repartees. “It is his wit that Thuglak and all of us who worked with him miss the most,” said S Ramesh, Chief Reporter of Thuglak, who has worked for the magazine from 1987. He could take on any side in his Q and A sessions and that’s what readers loved. “It is a great feat that the magazine has survived after his demise as it was bought and read only for Cho,” he adds.
Why BJP Needs to Learn from Cho’s Example
The magazine has been edited by right wing ideologue Swaminathan Gurumurthy after Cho’s demise in 2016. While he has certainly held it together and kept it alive, neither the editorial nor the editor cut through the political and ideological divide.
On 14th of January 2020, Thuglak will complete its 50th year and there is speculation that the Prime Minister may attend its annual reader’s conference, like he has twice in the past. But irrespective of who is on stage on that day, the Cho wit and stature will be missed.
And, it’s not just Thuglak, the ruling BJP and Star political entrants - Rajini especially- would miss a strategist who was on the face with his assessment and could reach and engage with leaders from all side of the polity in the southern state!
(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)