Frenemies forever: Tracing the 25-year history between Jayalalithaa and Subramanian Swamy

Jayalalithaa and Subramanian Swamy share a long and troubled history and it dates back to 1992.
Frenemies forever: Tracing the 25-year history between Jayalalithaa and Subramanian Swamy
Frenemies forever: Tracing the 25-year history between Jayalalithaa and Subramanian Swamy
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On Tuesday, as Tamil Nadu’s caretaker Governor Vidyasagar Rao reallocated cabinet portfolios handled by the state’s Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa to her senior most cabinet colleague O Panneerselvam, one man claimed credit for the move.

Jayalalithaa’s frenemy and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy tweeted that the appointment of Panneerselvam as the person who would chair TN cabinet meetings was triggered by his demand for President’s rule.

In the last two years, especially from the time of Jayalalithaa’s conviction in the disproportionate assets case, the two leaders have locked horns several times.

In 2015, several defamation complaints were filed against Subramanian Swamy after he told the PM that Jayalalithaa was pushing for the release of boats captured by the Sri Lankan navy as most mechanised boats belonged to her aide Sasikala.

Jayalalithaa and Subramanian Swamy share a long and troubled history.

It dates back to 1992, and started with a proposal to divest the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO). The chairman of TIDCO was an IAS officer named Chandralekha. She opposed the divestment of state-owned TIDCO's stakes in Southern Petrochemicals Industries Corporation (SPIC).

Chandralekha argued that this would result in losses for the government, and her opposition made the government pull back its decision. Some weeks later, Chandralekha became the victim of an acid attack, that left her horribly burned. The Chandralekha case became a huge political controversy in Tamil Nadu as some linked it with the SPIC-TIDCO divestment issue and suspected the hand of powerful people behind the crime.

Chandralekha got support from a politician in Tamil Nadu - Janata party leader Subramanian Swamy. Soon she joined his party and the duo was vocal in their opposition about the AIADMK leader.

Images courtesy Obharat. 

Swamy with Chandralekha

In the same year, another controversy broke out as properties belonging to the Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation (TANSI) was purchased by Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises, a company in which Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were partners.

Subramanian Swamy was one of the petitioners who approached the court, alleging that the property was undervalued and sold to the firms, causing a loss of over 3.5 crores to the state government. (Jayalalithaa was acquitted in that case by the Madras High Court in December 2001, and later, the Supreme Court confirmed the acquittal in November 2003.)

In October 1992, Swamy filed a petition to the State Governor demanding Jayalalithaa be disqualified as an MLA (Under Article 192 of the Constitution of India), as she was a partner in Jaya Publications, a private company that had entered into a contract with the government.

In 1995, continuing his campaign against Jayalalithaa, he gave a memorandum to the Governor seeking sanction for prosecution on several charges. On April 1, 1995, Governor Channa Reddy gave sanction to prosecute her in two cases – TANSI case and the Coal deal.

But Jayalalithaa was not one to keep quiet. In 1995, Swamy created a furore by calling LTTE supremo V. Prabhakaran, an "international pariah"- a term of Tamil origin that is derogatory to Dalits. The Jaya government filed a case against him under the Protection of Civil Rights Act. An India Today profile on Swamy says that in 1995 ‘with the Jayalalithaa government out to arrest him, he was forced to undergo an image makeover, changing to suits and dyeing his hair to evade the police. To mollify the Dalits, he went to the extent of assuring them to get the Oxford English Dictionary to remove the term pariah'.

The slam match continued for many months. Back then, Swamy supported a group called 'Nallaatchi Iyakkam' comprising himself, former Assembly Speaker K. Rajaram and a few former AIADMK leaders. When Swamy came to the Sessions Court in connection with filing a complaint, he was heckled by AIADMK cadre, and a few of his supporters and members of the Nallatchi Iyakkam were beaten up.

But by then Swamy’s image as an anti-corruption crusader was soaring in the state and he managed to poll more than a lakh votes from Madurai constituency, where he contested from in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections.

It was Subramanian Swamy who also filed a complaint against Jayalalithaa in 1996, alleging that during her tenure as chief minister from 1991 to 1996, there was a big and disproportionate jump in her wealth.

After the DMK returned to power in 1996, the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption investigated her wealth and filed its own charge-sheet. She was convicted in that case 18 years later, with a special court in Bengaluru handing out a four-year imprisonment term to her.  The Karnataka HC later acquitted her and an appeal is pending with the Supreme Court.

Now back to 1996. The first thaw in relations came in December 1996, when Jayalalithaa was arrested and jailed for a few weeks by the Karunanidhi led DMK government that had assumed power that year. Subramanian Swamy had told Rediff in an interview in 1999 that, “Jayalalithaa had approached me three years ago when she was in jail, saying she did not want to fight with me anymore and she would like my help in her fight against M Karunanidhi. I have nothing personal against anybody, but I told her that I would not withdraw the cases that I had filed against her. And I agreed to work with her if she agreed to be a different person. We worked together but I think a couple of things queered the pitch.”

Later in a surprise move, Jayalalithaa withdrew her candidate in the first Mayoral elections for Chennai city and supported Janata Party candidate Chandralekha, the acid attack survivor.

Chandralekha lost the election, but the gesture from Jayalalithaa mended the ties between the two for a while. In 1998, she formed an alliance with the Janata party and Swamy contested from the Madurai seat which he won during the 1998 general elections.

It was reported then that Jayalalithaa had lobbied hard to make Swamy the finance minister, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee who apparently detested Swamy, did not pay heed.

In April 1999, Swamy hosted the famous tea party that brought together Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalithaa.

Picture courtesy-

Though his intention was to bring down the Vajpayee government, Sonia Gandhi insisted that the Congress would come into picture only if the AIADMK withdrew support. Ultimately, Jaya gave the letter of withdrawal of support on April 14, 1999.

From 1999 to 2014, Jayalalithaa and Subramaniam Swamy have kept each other at an arm’s length. There were only minor skirmishes or bursts of support in this period. 

Main Image courtesy Obharat. 

(This is an updated version of a story published in April 2015) 

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