Jay­alalitha: A leader, an im­age ..................................................

A leader, an im­age

Libertatem Magazine - - Content Content - By Sarthak Son­walkar

Pu­ratchi Tha­laivi, or revo­lu­tion­ary leader, or more closely- Amma (mother), as she was pop­u­larly called by her party cadres and fol­low­ers, Jay­alalitha was a re­luc­tant en­trant into both cin­ema and pol­i­tics. While, Ven­nira Aadai (1965) marked her en­try into Tamil Cin­ema, her as­so­ci­a­tion with M.G. Ra­machan­dran (pop­u­larly known as MGR) and her ap­point­ment as pro­pa­ganda sec­re­tary of AIADMK marked her en­try into Tamil pol­i­tics. With her demise on De­cem­ber 5th, 2016, she be­came third Chief Min­is­ter of Tamil Nadu to die while be­ing in the of­fice. Be­sides serv­ing as the Chief Min­is­ter of the State, she was also AIADMK’S Gen­eral Sec­re­tary. To the po­si­tion which she rose to and the prom­i­nent fig­ure she was, all of it was phenom­e­nal. The Dra­vid­ian par­ties in Tamil Nadu largely emerged as a re­sponse to the oth­er­wise dom­i­nant up­per­castes while es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Dra­vid­ian race in the core of Tamil Nadu, af­ter which it has re­mained un­per­turbed to an ex­tent from the na­tional elec­toral trend. In such sce­nario, Jay­alalitha, who hailed from an up­per-caste Brah­min fam­ily, the feat she had achieved and the tow­er­ing fig­ure which she had be­come was re­mark­able. Her close as­so­ci­a­tion with MGR through her days in the film in­dus­try brought her to the fore of the Tamil Nadu’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape. Her as­so­ci­a­tion with MGR was quite ev­i­dent from the fact that she was con­tin­u­ously be­sides MGR’S mor­tal re­mains af­ter his demise in 1987 and was asked to go away by the fam­ily mem­bers of MGR, which she took as an ob­vi­ous hu­mil­i­a­tion to her­self. Soon af­ter MGR’S demise, AIADMK was di­vided into two fac­tions, viz., the one led by Jay­alalitha, and the other led by Janaki (MGR’S third wife). Jay­alalitha was able to gar­ner the pop­u­lar sup­port of the party cadres and soon emerged as the heav­ier of the two fac­tions cre­ated af­ter MGR’S death. Dur­ing her ca­reer, she had had five terms as the Chief Min­is­ter of Tamil Nadu, with her first stint be­gin­ning in 1991. Dur­ing th­ese tenures, twice she had to step down ow­ing to var­i­ous fac­tors, but the same could never budge her from the po­lit­i­cal scene, even when she was im­pris­oned for a while. Ev­ery time she made a come­back, she seemed more de­ter­mined and res­o­nant.

One of the prom­i­nent fea­tures of the Dra­vid­ian pol­i­tics, AIADMK in par­tic­u­lar has been that the party re­volves around its leader, be it MGR or Jay­alalitha. Adding to this, the clearly ar­tic­u­lated per­son­al­ity of hers which she had put forth be­fore the masses and was quickly bought, she emerged as the sole de­ci­sion-maker of the party, to whom

no one dared to ques­tion, but toe to her line. At times she would test the loy­alty of even the clos­est of her aides, and would re­ward them if they passed that par­tic­u­lar test. Ev­ery sin­gle party mem­ber paid obeisance to Amma and ques­tion­ing any of her de­ci­sions was sim­ply not an op­tion avail­able on the ta­ble. Un­con­di­tional sup­port was what she ex­pected from her party cadres. As a lead­ing daily of the coun­try de­scribes her, tem­pes­tu­ous and mer­cu­rial when she is down, placid and cold when she is on the top, she had many di­men­sions to her­self1. Yet, de­spite all of it, she was largely enig­matic. Her im­age as Amma was in­deed re­sound­ing and no doubt her ini­tia­tives in the State such as that of Amma Unav­agam (can­teens pro­vid­ing food to the poor at ex­tremely cheap prices) or dis­tri­bu­tion of ameni­ties, all of it was taken as the bless­ings from a mother to her chil­dren and this had gone ahead to give her tremen­dous sup­port.

AIADMK any­ways re­mains a kind of loose po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, where ev­ery­thing de­pends on the charisma of top lead­ers and which has al­ways been de­ci­sive for gar­ner­ing elec­toral sup­port. With Jay­alalitha’s demise, the ques­tion of party’s lead­er­ship had in­deed been thrown into the state of obliv­ion, how­ever, Sasikala, Jay­alalitha’s clos­est aide is be­ing urged by the party mem­bers to take over the reins of the party. Sev­eral party func­tionar­ies, who were ear­lier be­ing al­leged to be at­tempt­ing to cap­i­tal­ize over the sit­u­a­tion, have come for­ward to show their sup­port for Sasikala and have pub­licly urged her to take over the post of party Gen­eral Sec­re­tary. If some anal­ogy is sought to be drawn be­tween the cur­rent de­vel­op­ments and the ones which oc­curred af­ter MGR’S death, Sasikala at present seems to have an eas­ier way, given that AIADMK so far does not ap­pear to have any other fac­tion ris­ing up in the wake of the sit­u­a­tion. Her ap­point­ment, at least for the time be­ing, may put an end to the ques­tions of caste as a de­cid­ing fac­tor in de­cid­ing its next leader and party supre­mos. How­ever, Sasikala would have the chal­lenge of keep­ing the party to­gether, given the sud­den demise of its in­du­bi­ta­ble and un­ques­tion­able leader.

An­other sig­nif­i­cant ques­tion which can be raised here is that whether the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to the other po­lit­i­cal par­ties to take ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion. This ques­tion as­sumes great sig­nif­i­cance given the fact that fig­ure plays im­por­tant role in party pol­i­tics in Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi has been re­luc­tant to of­fi­cially han­dover the reins of the party to his ob­vi­ous successor Stalin, per­haps the rea­son be­ing the role of per­son­al­i­ties in the Tamil pol­i­tics. The im­por­tance of per­son­al­i­ties in the Tamil pol­i­tics can be well judged from the fact that a Brah­min could un­ques­tion­ably and boldly lead a Dra­vid­ian party for years (Be­sides Jay­alalitha be­ing a Brah­min, MGR too was an up­per caste Malay­ali). Though, this some­how has also sent a mes­sage through years, that AIADMK is more of a ra­tio­nal­ist-in­clined party than based on the pop­u­lar case for the Dra­vid­ian move­ment.

The case for the par­ties like BJP, who have been able to build up a sen­sa­tion at the na­tional po­lit­i­cal stage re­mains blur, given the im­por­tance of ap­peal to the re­gional sen­ti­ments in Tamil Nadu. A prac­ti­cal dif­fi­culty arises for any Gov­ern­ment at the Cen­tre in tak­ing one-sided stands on cer­tain is­sues such as that of Cau­very wa­ter is­sue or anti-hindi move­ment of the past and there­fore the prospects for any re­gional party re­main very less, un­less there is a pos­si­bil­ity of forg­ing al­liances and gar­ner­ing ex­ter­nal sup­port only. There of course will not be any pos­si­bil­ity for any in­ter­nal ar­range­ment with any of the Dra­vid­ian par­ties.

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