Cho S Ramaswamy, editor of satirical Tamil magazine Thuglak who died in the early hours of Wednesday at 82 after a prolonged illness, was a multi-faceted personality who was renowned for his often objective political commentaries on Tamil Nadu and national politics.
Cho, who had been off and on hospital for the past couple of years because of chronic breathing problems, breathed his last at 3.30 a.m. at Apollo Hospital, barely two days after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa died in the same hospital.
Cho was very fond of Ammu as Jayalalithaa was known to close friends. He had known her since the early days of her film career when she also used to act in Y G Parthasarathi’s plays along with him. Jaya was his blind spot. So much so, he even suggested to L K Advani, when he came to attend the Thuglak annual day function in Chennai two years ago that he should give way to her if she had any chance of becoming Prime Minister, much to the discomfiture of the veteran BJP leader.
Known in political circles as Jaya’s political adviser, Cho used to dismiss the suggestion with his characteristic self-deprecating tendency that she had a mind of her own.
Tragically, Jaya cut off all connections with Cho after he invited rebel AIADMK leader Pazha Karupaiah for the Thuglak annual day function after he was expelled by her.
His connection with political bigwigs cut across party lines though his politics was rooted in anti-Congressism which dated back to 1971, when he campaigned for Kamaraj’s grand alliance led by Rajaji.
This association took him close to the Janata Party, an offshoot of the Old Congress which came into being after the 1960 split engineered by Indira Gandhi.
While tall leaders like Advani and Vajpayee were jailed by Indira, Kamaraj was spared because of his ill-health.
Cho’s Thuglak was among the handful of magazines and newspapers like DMK’s Murasoli, Mainstream and Indian Express, which stood up to censorship during the 19 months of emergency. In one of the first issues after the censorship came into force, Cho got around the censors by carrying a review of age-old Tamil movie, Sarvathakari (Dictator).
When the Janata Party, a khichdi of assorted anti-Indira Gandhi parties like the Jana Sangh, and socialist parties, came into being after the emergency, it routed Indira. But its government fell in less than two years because of inherent contradictions.
Cho was witness to the tumultuous happenings of those days. So was he to the equally momentous events like DMK Karunanidhi’s second government from 1971 to 76 which was marked by violence and unprecedented corruption. Cho took up the cudgels against the regime and predictably, his magazine came under attack from DMK goons. Undaunted, he carried on with his trenchant criticism of Karunanidhi.
He remained a critic of Karunanidhi throughout his life though he was instrumental in bringing G K Moopanar’s fledgling Tamil Manila Congress to the DMK camp. Much against will and on the urgings of journalists close to him, Cho met Karunanidhi at Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters, thus breaking the ice and bringing Moopanar into the DMK fold. The alliance routed the notoriously corrupt Jaya regime in 1996.
It was this trait which made him stand out for he rarely spared friends or foes when they strayed from the right path.
It was a tragedy that Moopanar’s TMC proved to be short-lived after Karunanidhi took the DMK into the BJP camp and joined the Vajpayee Government. Left without an ally, the TMC was routed in the 1999 elections. Under pressure from his family and his own party followers, Moopanar agreed to an alliance with AIADMK after Jayalalitha called on him at his residence. Born in revolt against the AIADMK in 1996, the party lost its relevance when it joined hands with the same party. Moopanar decided to go back to the Congress, a last wish which was fulfilled after his death.
Cho played a crucial role in all these developments thanks to his proximity to Moopanar, Chidambaram and other tall leaders of that party.
During the ten years of UPA rule marked by mega scams like 2G, Coalgate and Commonwealth Games, Cho was unsparing in his critique.
Cho was an ardent supporter of Narendra Modi.
It was believed that Modi, when he was Gujarat Chief Minister, got an intelligence tipoff that Natarajan, husband of Sasikala, was staging a coup in the event of Jaya’s conviction in the disproportionate assets case, which was then at a crucial stage of hearing in a special court in Bengaluru. On learning about it, Jaya sent Sasikala packing. Cho, too decent to go into the nature of the grip Sasikala had over Jaya, felt that from then on, there would be no stopping her now that her nemesis was out of the way. The estrangement proved to be short-lived and Sasikala was back in Poes Garden. If Cho was disappointed, he did not show it.
Though Cho did have his pet prejudices and blind spots like Jaya, he was fair to even his critics. Thus, he always admired Karunanidhi’s literary skills, his industriousness and his sharp wit.
Like Karunanidhi, Cho was also easily accessible. He would allow you to have your say till you went blue in your face and at the end of it, he would gently agree to disagree. He, through his magazine appealed to all, as much to Dravida Kazhagam leader K Veeramani as to Rama Gopalan of Hindu Munnani.
Thanks to his close contacts with top political leaders, he was privy to many secrets. As a political activist, he was privy to information. But the journalist in him never allowed him to use these bits of information in his magazine.
When his father Srinivasan’s association with liquor baron Ramaswamy Udayar’s company led to a scandal, Cho took a neutral stand.
He had a following among the educated middle class. Yet, he never had any political illusions. He used to say that if he stood in an election, he would not even be able to save his security deposit.
Much before his foray into Tamil films, Cho used his Viveka Arts to stage close to a dozen plays in the 1970s. The most famous of them was Mohammed bin Thuglak which was also made into a film. When he launched the magazine, he chose that name to tell his readers that he would be as whimsical as Thuglak the Mohammedal ruler was. Yet, his loyal readers enjoyed his ability to laugh at himself.
With Jaya, Cho shared a distaste not so much for films per se, but the unprofessional way in which they were produced leading to hours wasted on the sets. While Jaya used to curl up with a book, Cho found thousands of tasks on his hands a decade or so after he quit.
He made use of his association with the film world to write a book. A prolific writer, he authored nearly 30 books, including five on Hinduism. They were all writings in his magazine which were later published as books.
After Kalki Krishnamurthi and Devan known for their humour, Cho carved a niche for himself as a satirist though he mainly lampooned the political class like famed cartoonist R K Laxman.
Cho is survived by his wife and two children- a son and a daughter. He will be sorely missed. RIP