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HVK Archives: Karunanidhi institutionalised corruption; Jayalalitha beat him blue

Karunanidhi institutionalised corruption; Jayalalitha beat him blue - The Sunday Observer

Posted By Ashok V Chowgule (ashokvc@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in)
15-21 December 1996

Title : `It was Karunanidhi who institutionalized corruption. But Jayalalitha beat him blue'
Author :
Publication : The Sunday Observer
Date : December 15-21, 1996

Cho S Ramaswamy, the editor with the vitriolic pen, took
to writing and, later, politics for a cause: to expose
the corrupt. His politics is more of unassailable oratory
than empty rhetoric. Cho was instrumental in dethroning
the Muthuvel Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu in 1991
and crowing Jayalalitha Jayaraman through hard campaign-
ing. However, their `honey-moon' was shortlived, thanks
to Jayalalitha's autocratic demeanour, and Cho became
such a staunch critic of hers that the arrayed Rajnikant,
Karunanidhi and G Karuppaiah Moopanar against her. The
result was a massive electoral win for the Dravida Munne-
tra Kazhagam-Tamil Maanila Congress alliance. The editor
had become a kingmaker.

Cho's basic traits have always been openness, forthright-
ness and strong beliefs. So how does he see the political
scene in Tamil Nadu now, especially after Jayalalitha's
fall from the pinnacle of unbridled power to a dull and
dank prison floor. Will there be a change? The irrepress-
ible editor of Tughlaq answered SHOBHA WARRIER in his
inimitable style. Excerpts:

You have known Jayalalitha since her film days. You have
also seen her political career from close quarters. Did
you expect such a fall?

My friendship with her dates back to even before she
began her film or stage career. I know her since she was
seven. And we have been good friends. Politically, we
have been apart, together, and all that. As a friend, as
one who knows her for the last four decades or so, I am
very sorry about what has happened. I am sorry she has
landed herself in this mess.

Are you sorry about her imprisonment?

Yes, I am sad. But I would say she brought this upon
herself. I am also sorry that she wasted a great oppor-
tunity to emerge as one of the leading political lights
of this country. She could have achieved it. She did-
n't. I am sorry for that.

What was the reason for her messing up? Was it the
sycophants around her? Or her autocratic ways?

She isolated herself from all impartial opinion and
information. She started listening only to what she
wanted to hear. She had this trait in her even earlier.
But once she took up the office of chief minister, she
ought to have ensured that she had access to all shades
of opinion. Also, she never placed faith in anybody
except her coterie. I think these led to her downfall.

You criticized Karunanidhi a lot when he was chief min-

Yes, when Karunanidhi was chief minister, I was perhaps
the only journalist who went on agitating for his dismis-
sal. Even when V P Singh was the prime minister. Karuna-
nidhi had given a free reign to the LTTE [Liberation

Tigers of Tamil Eelam] in the state. When I campaigned
against it, I was criticized by almost everybody.

I was against the supporting, funding, and training of
Tigers by India. I was against the platforms provided not
only to the Tigers, but also to other Sri Lankan Tamils
in India for the division of Sri Lanka. I was called a
traitor. Karunanidhi and many others lambasted me for
that. Even my own readers started writing to me that I
was anti-Tamil and a traitor.

Because of this attitude towards the Tigers and the Sri
Lankan problem, I was very much concerned when Karunanid-
hi became chief minister. He gave them free reign. So I
started demanding his dismissal by sending petitions to
the Centre.

Chandra Shekhar alone understood the seriousness of the
situation. I was told that Arun Nehru also was concerned.
I am saying this to show that it was not as if Rajiv
Gandhi and Jayalalitha persuaded Shekhar to dismiss
Karunanidhi. He was already convinced that if Karunanidhi
continued to promote the Tigers in Tamil Nadu, he should
go. So, when he [Shekhar] became prime minister, natural-
ly he went through the files, found what was happening,
and told me that in spite of all my writings and pleas, I
knew only one-tenth of what was happening.

I was in close touch with Jayalalitha then. There had to
be an alternative to Karunanidhi. The Congress was not in
a position to replace the DMK. Jayalalitha was very upset
and ready to leave politics, because she never thought
Karunanidhi's dismissal was possible.

She was harassed a lot by the DMK. There was no doubt
about that. She was facing all kinds of problems. But
when Shekhar became prime minister, she knew the day she
was going to become chief minister was not far away.

Was she an ambitious lady?

Well, she was ambitious. I wouldn't say she was very much
after a political career earlier. Her ambitions lay
elsewhere, in academics: she wanted to prove herself as
an intellectual and all that.

Was it because she was denied formal education?

Though she was not educated in the sense that she didn't
have a university degree, she was a voracious reader....
But back to the political scene in 1991. Ultimately, she
became chief minister. I even campaigned for it. I wrote.
"I don't expect the Jayalalitha government to be free of
corruption. Still people should vote for the AIADMK
because Tamil Nadu has to get rid of an administration
which is supporting the Tigers."

What made you say even then that the Jayalalitha govern-
ment would also not be free of corruption?

The people around her. And her attitude, I thought, would
not ensure probity. That was why I wrote that. Tomorrow,
I should not be called a fool. But I never expected
corruption to reach these heights. Karunanidhi also was
corrupt, but never this much.

But you once said it was the DMK government which insti-
tutionalized corruption.

Not once, I always said that. Even now, I say that. As
far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, it was the DMK government
and Karunanidhi who institutionalized corruption. There
is absolutely no doubt about it. But Jayalalitha beat
him blue.

You even compared them to a fountain and a flood. Still,
you sided with the DMK-TMC alliance to oust her.

That's right. She had become not only corrupt, but highly
vengeful too. I did not expect this from her. I never saw
this streak of, vengeance in her. The things she did to
Subramanian Swamy, to P Chidambaram... what she went on
doing to newspapers, journalists! I started to abhor
these things.

By then, Karunanidhi also had changed his attitude to-
wards the Tigers. He had started openly saying he was no
longer a supporter of the Tigers. But I wanted the
Congress to go it alone in Tamil Nadu. With Rajnikant's
support, I was convinced that the Congress could make it.
I pleaded with P V Narasimha Rao during 1994 itself. I
tried to persuade him to, take action against her, expose
the accent on corruption.

Why was Rao against the Congress going it alone?

All these leaders of the Congress and other national
parties do not want strong state units. Indira Gandhi
started this trend. She wanted only pygmies around her so
that she could remain tall. But she had an advantage:
charisma. In spite of what she did to the Congress, she
could gain votes for the party. Rao also saw to it that
nobody of stature rose in the states. But he was not
charismatic. That is why the Congress is facing a bad
situation now.

But you had always been a harsh critic of Karunanidhi. So
why did you push for the TMC's alliance with the DMK?

I had a lot of reservations about it. But the practical
situation demanded that the anti-Jayalalitha vote not be
split. Karunanidhi is not the solution. Nor is the DMK.
It is only an intermediate arrangement in my opinion to
escape from Jayalalitha's corrupt administration. That is
how I see it.

What should happen here is, the Congress [now the Con-
gress in Tamil Nadu is the TMC] needs to come to power.
For that, they have to distance themselves from this
government. It should be done at the right moment. The
issue must be chosen cleverly. It should be well-timed.
They must start acting as the opposition. And though
Rajni will not immediately support it, I think the public
themselves will demand that he support it. I could hap-

What will happen to the AIADMK?

The AIADMK sans Jayalalitha...

Will that happen?

Why not? I am not ruling that out. The AIADMK sans Jaya-
lalitha and the TMC will made a formidable alliance.
That's what I feel. the MGR vote is still intact. Nobody
is there to channelize it now. If Jayalalitha is going to
be held guilty by the court, it will be very difficult
for her.

Otherwise, do you foresee her comeback?

Yes, but were will the MGR vote go? It is a blind vote.

Still, can she come back as a prominent state leader?

that can happen only if Karunanidhi earns a horribly bad
reputation for himself and his government. Only Karuna-
nidhi can achieve it for her by running a very shabby
government .

The AIADMK, unlike the Congress, is a personality-orient-
ed party. Now that Jayalalitha is in jail, what will
happen to it? Will it remain one or break up?

It is personality-oriented, but the vote is also person-
ality-oriented. That personality - M G Ramachandran - is
dead and gone. But the vote remains. Already there is a
split in the party, Karunanidhi is treating the splinter
party with kid gloves. The splinter group has a number of
corrupt former ministers, but Karunanidhi is not acting
against them. It is only the pro-Jayalalitha people in
the AIADMK who are being proceeded against. The anti-
Jayalalitha men have also been spared. There is a dif-
ference. This is what suggests vindictiveness. Now I
wouldn't call the action against Jayalalitha vindictive.
But if he fails to act against them [the anti-Jayalalitha
people], which seems to be his idea, this action will be
seen as vindictive.

How do you assess the present government as far as cor-

This government has not become corrupt. There may be
small incidents. But I don't see corruption as a serious
problem now. It is only a few months old. Lets wait and

Do you think Jayalalitha will get the sympathy of the
people because she was arrested and jailed, like Indira
Gandhi after the Emergency?

Indira got sympathy because of the Janata infighting.
They became buffoons in the eyes of the people. So the
people thought only she could run a government. In Jaya-
lalitha's case, this is not going to happen. There will
be sympathy, but it will not be converted into votes.

Why were Jayalalitha and her coterie so indiscreet about
the way they amassed wealth and bungalows?

There have been many chief ministers who have made lots
of money. But nobody developed assets like this, bunga-
lows, estates, agricultural lands, jewellery.... Perhaps
she wanted to give proof.

Did she really believe the sycophants that she was going
to be permanent chief minister of Tamil Nadu?

She believed she was not going to be unseated for 25
years. It could still have happened during the last
elections if the anti-Jayalalitha vote had got split.
That's way when Rajni suggested joining hands with the
DMK, Moopanar accepted.

Jayalalitha was projected as an intelligent woman. As a
person who has known her for so long, tell us, why did
she behave like this?

You are intelligent. The people who are going to read
this interview are intelligent. It is not as if Jayala-
litha is the only intelligent person. I think about 90
per cent of the people are intelligent. Still we do
commit blunders. And when power goes to your head, when
you fell that you are not going to be unseated for the
next 25 years, you become complacent. That's what hap-
pened to her.

Didn't she have faith in anyone around her?

She kept only Sasikala's group around her. She believed
only in them. It was wrongly reported that R Venkataraman
was advising her. He didn't have any contact with her. It
would have been much better if she had some such advice.
She was listening only to Sasikala and those wanting to
bribe her and get things done.

When did you start seeing this autocratic trend in her?

Six months after she came to power. I wrote pieces in my
journal expressing my concern about the drift. After one
year, I started criticizing her.

Would she have behaved differently if she were reading
your criticisms?

She couldn't care less.

During her regime, whoever spoke against her was har-
assed. And you were one of her harshest critics. Did you
ever experience anything like that?

No, not at all.

Why? Did she just ignore your criticism?

It was not ignoring. I think she decided that what I said
would have no impact. Tughlaq is supposed to reach only
the middle class and the upper class, and her vote is
elsewhere. So she thought my opinion was not going to
reach her voters.

Finally, do you think Jayalalitha has a future in Tamil
Nadu politics?

I don't see a future now. But many things can happen. If
the court cases fail, if there is no legal proof, she
will have her chances. But I think it is very, very

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