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Cho Ramaswamy During The Emergency

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Cho Ramaswamy During The Emergency

24 Jun, 2015

By 1975 Cho Ramaswamy, a famous theatre and film personality in Tamil Nadu, had established Tughlak as a unique, one-of- a-kind intelligent Tamil political magazine. This is the story of his characteristic, and sometimes humorous, defiance of press censorship during the Emergency.

Those among us born after 1975-77 or were too small in those years will hardly be able to relate to the Emergency day stories. The India of today is very different in more than one way. Can anyone imagine a Volvo bus in Bangalore today displaying the slogan “The Future is Bright! The Leader is Right!” or “Rumour Monger is the Nation’s Enemy?” And those slogans were not just even the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

The State made a serious attempt at regimenting, controlling and directing lives of ordinary Indians. A famous restaurant in Bangalore was directed to offer Janata Meals at Re 1 or close down, the owner preferred the latter option. Imposition of President’s rule in Tamil Nadu saw an activist governor seeking to vigorously implement guest control order, threatening to police-raid marriages offering meals to guests above the permitted limit!

But the sector on which the impact was among the highest was understandably the media. The PM of that day, her trusted advisors, as well as those from the party that offered maximum support to her from outside were all schooled well in the ‘Soviet way.’ So the system worked hard to ensure that media was managed to ensure comparable levels of content and delivery!

Four News Agencies were merged into one entity called Samachar, in the TASS model. Press censorship was imposed on the publications. And practically all publications complied (Famous words of Advani – “when asked to bend, they crawled!”).

Among editors, the examples of CR Irani, Rajmohan Gandhi, Nikhil Chakravarthy are well known, but not many outside Chennai might know the example of Cho Ramaswamy.

When Emergency was imposed in June 1975, the only states that were not under the direct, and total, rule of Congress were Gujarat and Tamil Nadu (Kerala had a coalition which was led by a CPI CM although Congress had more seats). All other states were ruled by Congress singly!

Of the two exceptions, while Gujarat was seen by the Centre as being the ‘enemy’, the Congress Central Leadership was a bit ambivalent towards the DMK government in Tamil Nadu. After all in 1971 they had fought both LS and Assembly elections together, and quite successfully. Consequently, the crackdown was not as visible as in, say, Delhi.

(This piece is part of our coverage of the 40th anniversary of the proclamation of Emergency)

For those who might not be aware, Cho Ramaswami is a multifaceted personality. Essentially a practicing lawyer, he started involving himself in theatre. That involvement went well, and got him roles in films too mostly as a comedian. In 1970, he started Tughlak, a fortnightly (then) in Tamil. This was quite a unique, risky venture then.

A typical Tughlak cover.

A typical Tamil magazine had to have a significant amount of serialised fiction catering primarily to the homemaker. Added to that was some filmy element (reviews, gossip), plus based on the positioning some added material (e.g. some offered content bordering on soft porn). This was packaged in a glossy cover. Tughlak broke all these boundaries. His first cover had two donkeys talking to each other poking fun of the magazine (actually one informing the other that the arrival of the magazine will mean a lot of food for them!). The idea of having a cartoon for the cover persists till date.

Film content was restricted to one caustic review, where the director’s comments were added. Fiction came in later, but of a totally different genre (political satire). The rest of the content was political – directly and indirectly. One of the components that later on became eagerly looked forward to by his readers was the Q&A, where he answered all types of questions in his own inimitable way.

His film background as a comedian and his inexperience in journalism led many, especially the rulers of those days, to be dismissive of the effort. He too played along by being self-deprecatory about his effort! But in reality the magazine fulfilled a crucial, unexploited positioning gap, and it took off! The bitterly contested (the results did not indicate that though!) 1971 elections offered a fillip to the magazine, with Cho himself participating the campaign in favour of the Cong (O) – Swatantra alliance.

Emergency press regulations created the usual difficulties for Cho. Expectedly he did not bend. Initially, he responded with a black cover and went off the press. Later he resumed and fought the rules in his own creative way. In movie reviews section, he reviewed Sarvadhikari, a 1951 film (Sarvadhikari means Dictator). A ‘literary section’ contained verses from Bharathiyar’s Panchali Sabhatham, where the Arjuna consoles Bhima saying Kattundom Poruthiruppom Kalam Maarum (We are bound now, but we will wait! For the times to change!!)
Q&A had questions that stretched the limits of political censorship. In an interview to Rediff in 2005 he reminisces about those days. The final act in those difficult times was the stoppage of Tughlak in Tamil and he started an English edition under the name, Pickwick. It fulfilled a certain emergency requirement but was never a patch on the Tamil Tughlak. Subsequently it was shut down and Tughlak restarted.

A Black Cover! Tughlak carried an all black cover in response to the imposition of emergency.





i heard abt during emergency...my friend got engineering seat in tamil nadu without any donation....purely merit...
I belong to delhi . I experienced the emergency regime at close quarters being in the capital of india frequently during those years.

there were both positive and negative feelings about it.

initially , there were positive feelings., end to disruptive politics of opposition, strikes and dharnas at the drop of a hat paralysing life of common man.

the initial clean up drives , punctuality of trains and govt office functioning were a welcome change.

then slowly the problems surfaced. censorship of press, gossip mills working overtime to spread wild stories of repression and high handedness of police and congress

youth wings . the rise of son of PM and his drives at slum clearance hurting the poor, harsh sterilisation drives with targets to be fulfilled by govt school teachers.

some sterilisation operations resulted in deaths due to callous and mad rush to fulfill targets. many govt servants getting suspended for inefficiency,non punctuality.

Even in homes politics would get discussed in low tone so that no one overhears and complains.

Since I was working in hyderabad, I was happy with congress regime of vengal rao..I got ration card as a bachelor, authorities knocking on the door and giving me one.

Trains from hyderabad were punctual . many new trains from hyderabad got introduced. Food prices in local hotels got reduced at the orders of the govt. very pleasing

as a bachelor eating out often. Rations easily available for those who wanted it.There were hardly any negative feelings .

the negative effects were mostly in north india.there was more efficiency and far less corruption in southern states.

so emergency was a mixed bag ,depended on where you were.lol
In Tamil Nadu not much impact felt as I was a student then...We just knew the positive aspects...That office goers were getting regular and punctual..That services will be provided timely be it in ration office or passport office...That Brahmins will not face discrimination in admissions in Engg colleges & Medicine...That rule of the law will be upheld...It was a blessing in disguise..I some times feel we were better off in Emergency that Democracy!
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