“Though the judgment was a blow to her now, there was a lot of sympathy for Ms Jayalalithaa among the people. The considered opinion of the legal experts is that legal avenues are available to her and she may come out unscathed in the future”
– Cho Ramaswamy on Court verdict in the Disproportionate Assets Case against J Jayalalithaa
The departure of two great actors turned public figures of Tamil Nadu within a span of 30 hours is generally being discussed as a void created in the political and intellectual space of the Southern State. One was a populist politician with a mass appeal, still a reluctant leader to engage in free communication. The other was a media giant who was ready to express himself on any issue in a straight and satirical manner without considering the implications. The lady politician was considered to be unpredictable and did not trust many but the journalist not only gained her confidence but played an advisory role for her in difficult times. Despite a long acquaintance and trusted friendship, the journalist did not spare the commanding politician who had a complete grip over the party. What was that connecting cord that made this relation between former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and veteran journalist Cho Ramaswamy so special?
Of course, their connection with theatre and cinema was the common factor that was working behind the scenes. Cho had known Jayalalithaa from her Cinema days and he always had admiration for her struggle and performance on celluloid. Amma also knew the literary contribution and performing ability of Cho in the Tamil literary and theatre world.
Another important aspect that brought these two distinct but influential personalities together was their common antagonism towards Karunanidhi and his version of Dravidian politics. More importantly, the positive aspect of this rivalry was giving new meaning to the State politics. The politics of Tamil Nadu before Amma was more exclusivist, based on exceptional Tamil identity. Jayalalithaa was the only leader in the State who carried the tag of All India in the nomenclature of her party AIADMK. That shows that she always had a national and integrationist vision, which Cho also supported vigorously. Her speech on ‘Kashmir’ in Rajya Sabha also indicate that despite using the regional sentiments for political mobilisation, she did not compromised with the national interests.
Jayalaithaa’s policies were meant for the common masses and executed them for the poorest of the poor. Cho always appreciated that. That is why while Cho sometimes criticised competitive populism in Tamil politics, he defended her tooth and nail when she was cornered with political vendetta during the DMK rule. Cho went ahead and spoke for her even during series of corruption charges against her. As he predicted, ‘Amma can’t be written off’, she made a comeback, in fact the cases and conviction increased her popularity among masses.
So it would be wrong to say that the demise of Jayalalithaa and Cho is a loss of Tamil Nadu only. In real terms it is a loss to the nation because these two
personalities starting from theatre to shaping the so-called ‘exclusivist’ Dravidian discourse on the path of reconciliation, have been the connect between the distinct State socio-political process to the national narrative. They were the bridge between Tamil Nadu and rest of the nation, connecting the artificial gap created by the ‘Aryan-Dravidian’ divide. Who will fill that vacuum for the nation is the real question. Anyone who is claiming their legacy should be judged on the parameter whether they believe that Tamil culture is part and parcel of larger Bharatiya narrative and Tamil Nadu society and politics has to flourish in reconciliation with this larger vision. That will be the real tribute to this unique combination.