A row has broken out between Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy over an interview given by the latter on Indian boats captured by Sri Lanka. On Tuesday night, Jayalalithaa shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying she was distressed at Swamy’s comments that he had advised Sri Lankan government not to release boats of Tamil Nadu fishermen. Swamy expectedly did not keep quiet and responded on Wednesday with a letter to the PM claiming Jayalalithaa was concerned about boats as most mechanised boats belonged to her aide Sasikala.
This is perhaps the first time in recent years that Jayalalithaa and Subramanian Swamy have come out against each other in the open, but they share a long troubled history.
It dates back to 1992, and started with the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) case. The chairman of TIDCO was an IAS officer named Chandralekha. She had 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 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.
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, in which Jayalalithaa and Sasikalaa were partners.
Subramanian Swamy was one of the petitioners who approached 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 it 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 for several charges. On April 1, 1995, Governor Channa Reddy gave sanction to prosecute her in two cases – TANSI case and 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 of 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 few other former AIADMK leaders. When Swamy came to the Sessions Court in connection with filing a complaint, he was heckled by AIADMK cadres, 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, that verdict by a special court is expected on September 20, after a long gap of almost 18 years.
The AIADMK is nervous about this verdict as if found guilty with a term of more than two years, TN CM Jayalalithaa would lose her position under the Representation of People Act which disqualifies any MP, MLA or MLC convicted for a crime with more than a two year sentence as an elected representative from the date of the conviction.'
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, “Jayalalitha had approached me three years ago when she was in jail, saying she did not want to fight with me any more 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 who contested from the Madurai seat 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. Though his intention was to bring down the Vajpayee government, Sonia Gandhi insisted that the Congress would come into picture only if the AIADMK withdraws support. Ultimately, Jaya gave letter of withdrawal of support on April 14, 1999.
Pic courtesy- Rediff.com
Later in the general elections held in 1999, BJP came back to power, Jayalalithaa broke her ties with Swamy.
From 1999 to 2014, Jayalalithaa and Subramaniam Swamy have kept each other at an arm’s length. There have been minor skirmishes or bursts of support in this period. Now with both leaders gunning for each other and taking their complaints to the Prime Minister, yet another interesting political chapter may have just begun.