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Cho Ramaswamy, wit and analyst (thehindu)

It was the eighteenth century satirist Joseph Addison who said his task was “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality”. For veteran journalist, satirist and playwright ‘Cho’ Ramaswamy, the task may well have been “to enliven politics with wit, and to temper wit with political analysis”. Cho was a lawyer, writer, dramatist, comedian, journalist and commentator, but will chiefly be remembered as a playwright for his 1968 satire Muhammad bin Tughlaq , and as the editor of Thuglak magazine for his refusal to be cowed down by the Emergency. Many looked up to him for political analysis and even voting guidance. Often moving beyond the journalistic role, he utilised his numerous political friendships to bring together parties and leaders and sought to influence major developments. Seen as an upstart when he founded Thuglak in 1970, Cho managed to reflect the unspoken angst of the middle class, which held a dim view of politics and politicians, especially because of the ease with which political loyalties would swing from one end to another. His early years in journalism coincided with the authoritarian phase of the ruling Congress. Therefore it was no surprise that his brand of journalism, somewhat unique at the time in south India, had an anti-establishment resonance for many years.
It is easy to sum up Cho’s political views: he was a committed nationalist, a right-of-centre analyst, and a firm believer in a strong Central government. He tended to be disdainful of regional parties and their aspirations. He was a fierce critic of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and the misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution for political ends. With a readership that strongly echoed his own worldview, Thuglak shaped the thinking of the middle class for many years. However, with the rise of other political forces to take on the dominant and unpopular ones, Cho’s appeal was later limited to the right-wing middle and upper classes. Being a strong critic of the Emergency and a spirited lampooner of authority, he could have been a liberal. However, there was a streak of conservatism in his political outlook, which influenced the manner in which he addressed the issues before the country, both as an analyst and as a playwright. But ultimately, what will remain in memory is his inimitable humour, withering sarcasm and vigorous espousal of democracy against authoritarian intervention. His journalism was rooted in ethics, rarely allowing scope for gossip or baseless charges. His Tamil readers will definitely miss his sharp analysis and their weekly fix of middle-class wisdom.


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