A story written by Cho Ramaswamy in 1996 has a lot to say about Tamil Nadu politics.
This story by Cho Ramaswamy, actor, writer and political influencer who passed away in December 2016, was first serialised in Thuglak magazine in 1996. His narrative is as interesting now as it was then.
The crux of the story is this:
Kandasamy, RNR Ayyar and Jaggu are three unlikely friends who meet every day at a tea stall. When RNR complains one day that there is no water in the tap and no electricity, and says he must catch hold of a minister, Kandasamy, scornful of RNR’s middle-class concerns, sniffs dismissively that ministers are not the municipal commissioner. RNR tells him that everything needs a minister’s permission these days and the minister, in turn, needs the chief minister’s permission. Jaggu, a local goon, agrees with RNR and hatches a plan to ensure that whoever becomes the next chief minister “will be ours”. Translated excerpts are published below.
From chapter 2:
Kandasamy wondered how a chief minister could become so powerful. “After all, the CM is just another MLA.”
Jaggu threw him a pitying look. “See, in this business of politics, running a party is like running a company. One day, the head of the company gets his ticket from up there. But before going, he won’t say who will succeed him. The company has too many big bandicoots, all with service records as long as an arm. No bandicoot trusts the other, and none can bear to see any of the others at the top. But for the time being, they all agree to hand it to the smallest bandicoot, the one they think can be bent to their will, who will do their bidding. Each thinks that in time, he can send off this guy, send the others packing as well, and rise to the top himself”.
But it never works out that way, Jaggu explained patiently. “People start buttering up junior. They bathe him in praise, gifts and money. That’s when junior starts discovering himself.”
Excerpts from chapter 17:
“Jaggu, everything went off just as you planned. I was just telling Kandasamy you are way ahead of us in your understanding of politics and politicians.”
“Ayyarey,” said Kandasamy, ever the one to throw cold water on everything, “is this what you call politics? It’s just hanky panky. Don’t call this politics again”.
Jaggu rose belligerently from the rickety stool. “Kansamy saar, mind it! If you say this is fraud and cheating once again, I’ll send your top flying. You want to know the difference between politics and fraud? Let me tell you. If one rowdy does something by himself, it is called cheating. But if he does it as a partyman, ayya, it is called politics. Get it?”
RNR looked worshippingly at his hero Jaggu, enthralled by this exposition of politics. Simple-minded RNR lapped up Jaggu’s words as if they were a revelation from the sky.
Kandasamy looked least convinced and continued murmuring on about how this was an all too simplistic way to understand politics.
Not wanting to drag on the discussion any further, Kandasamy thought he would bring Jaggu down to earth. “Hope you don’t get us caught in the police net”.
“Why would we be caught? Don’t you know the police always put salaams to the politicians. When the police fall into our net, that’s when you’ll see what politics is all about. You wait and see.”
“Leave Kandasamy alone Jaggu, come to the point. Elections are over. Who do you think will win? Who will become the chief minister? All the opinion polls in the newspapers are predicting Kalaignar will win”.
“What forecast? All these paperwallahs are against Jayalalitha. So they cook up the facts to suit Kalaignar. But if you ask the AIADMK, their forecast will say Puratchi Thalaivi is going to be the CM. Who knows the truth? When two crore people vote, how can you predict with a survey of 2,000 people. They always get it all wrong”.
“Ayyo Jaggu, do you mean to say Kalaignar won’t become CM. Oh, poor man, it will break his heart if he loses,” said RNR, looking close to tears himself.
“Ayyarey! Did I say he won’t win? All I said is the game is open. As for becoming the CM, look, anyone can become CM. Why, even the chief minister’s friend Sasikala is a CM possibility.”
“How can that be Jaggu? She has not contested the elections,” gasped Kandasamy.
“Saarey, you call yourself educated? Don’t you know the majority party MLAs can make anyone CM? Why, even RNR can aspire to that post.”
“Really, seriously Jaggu?” asked RNR, his eyes lighting up. Jaggu dashed his hopes as swiftly as he had sent them flying.
“Yeah, how much money do you have? Even Amma does not know how much money her friend has, that’s the buzz. If that friend of hers buys off the MLAs, she can very well be the CM. What is the guarantee that the MLAs won’t ditch their Amma and shift allegiance to the friend for cash, or worse?” Jaggu spat out.
“That’s true Jaggu. I wanted to ask you,” began RNR. “They say Amma has 1,000 crore and the friend has 2,000 crore. Can this be true, Jaggu? Where do they keep so much cash?”
“Ayyarey, it’s a big issue,” said Jaggu, professorially.
“That’s why I’m asking you Jaggu. If it was a small matter, I would have asked Kandasamy”.
“They don’t keep the money themselves, Ayyarey. They distribute it among their close friends and confidantes – bemanis.”
“Yes Ayyarey, bemani. Let’s suppose that Puratchi Thalaivi trusts Kansamy saar, she will give him ten crore and ask him to keep it safely for her. Legally speaking, that makes Kansamy saar a bemani. If she give it you, you become a bemani.”
As Jaggu went on about bemani, Kandasamy exploded, “Stop blabbing Jaggu. What is this bemani nonsense? It’s benami.”
For a change, Jaggu was taken aback to be corrected like this, but only for a second. “Whatever. Same difference. Bemani, benami. You got the point, didn’t you?”
[Note: ‘Bemani’ is Tamil for a deceitful or dishonest person.]
RNR shook his head in all directions vigourously to signal he understood. But he had another question.
“What shall we do now? If Sasikala becomes CM, how can we go, meet her and make her ‘our CM’? We never thought to include her in our plan”.
Translated by Vijaya Subramanian. Published with permission from Alliance Company, Chennai, publisher of Adathu Aatchi Namadhey.