As the nation mourns the loss of Jayalalithaa who breathed her last on Monday night, as was expected, life virtually came to a grinding halt in Chennai as the city woke up to deserted streets with shops, including eateries, remaining shut. In fact such scenes were witnessed across the state.
The former CM of Tamil Nadu was as much of a mystery in personal life as she was an enigma at the political level. Yet she was widely revered in the southwestern state!
Police were put on alert across Tamil Nadu over concerns that her supporters would resort to violence and self-harm in the event of her death for most of the three months that she was hospitalized. Such was the ‘leader-worship’ the departed leader enjoyed among her followers.
India is a land rich in myths, legends and folklores. As a country known for idolizing its stars, we Indians are blessed with a fantastic sense of adulation.
Hence it is not at all surprising that public adoration has crossed over from cinematic world to have an equal share in the political sphere where political leaders to a large extent have been accorded the same status as the matinee-idols who have continued reigning supreme in the hearts of their fans for ages now.
For that matter, over a period of time, the way politics has shaped in this country has undergone a sea of change as well. The personality cult that operates at the heart of Indian politics is a manifestation of this transformation. The anxiety around Jayalalithaa’s illness during her period of hospitalization underscores India’s thriving politics of personality cult.
In 1949, Dr. B R Ambedkar, the chairman of the Constitution’s drafting committee, spoke in the Constituent Assembly on India’s tendency towards hero-worship. If I may quote:
“ Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”
So true! The penchant shown by the citizens of the country to create stars and deify the men in flesh and bones, mere mortals, is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
However, this is also a sure-shot recipe for endorsing sycophancy among their passionate supporters!
Moreover, excessive public admiration or devotion to a political leader and conferring on him/her the stature of a demi-God has often proved disastrous for many a political party in the long run.
After the death of NTR, the power-struggle within the TDP in Andhra Pradesh is well known. Likewise, the demise of MGR in 1987 brought a political void in TN politics and AIADMK in particular with the party getting split, before Jayalalithaa took over the reins of the unified AIADMK.
Their eccentricities and fondness for courting controversies apart, both Mayawati and Jayalalithaa have been poles apart in their approach to politics. As a protégé of Kanshi Ram, Mayawati has not deviated from the agendas concentrated upon by her political guru.
The Bahujan Samaj Party even today focuses on a platform of social change to improve the lives of the weakest strata of Indian society – the Dalits and other backward classes, and religious minorities! Mayawati derives her popularity for these efforts.
Amma, on the other hand, was forever proving her detractors wrong!
I found this comment in a letter to the editor column of a leading national daily very aptly echoing the sentiments of the local Tamilians:
“The very fact that a woman from a Brahmin community had carved a niche for herself in Dravidian politics, which was fostered on strong anti-Brahmin sentiment, speaks volumes about the way Jayalalitha endeared herself to the masses.”
Newspaper reports and photos of supporters of Jayalalithaa paying tribute by having their heads tonsured at the memorial where she was laid to rest in Chennai is another example of the blind devotion which was responsible for the God-like status she enjoyed amongst Tamilians.
Be that as it may! It would however be a pity not to have Jayalalithaa’s foresight and legacy holding the party together for quite some time to come, for she has single-handedly, and doggedly, and with the perseverance she is renowned for, over a period of time, managed to take the state on a new path - one of inclusiveness and progress!
The new Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has the tricky job of ensuring he doesn’t dilute the brand that his mentor had built around herself. First and foremost, it has to be seen how dexterously he handles the ‘Sasikala factor’.
Reports of her close aide Sasikala’s estranged husband returning to hold centre-stage during Jayalalithaa’s funeral triggered enough of controversy giving an inkling of things to come.
It does appear that with people who had been banished by Amma when she was alive emerging out of the shadows of anonymity to claim their position under the sun, a new order is emerging in Tamil Nadu’s political theatre.
Apparently the lull before the storm! Is Chinnamma going to be the new power centre in Tamil Nadu?
But it is difficult to say whether the ‘transition’ of power post-Jayalalithaa in AIADMK will be all that smooth. For the moment, the present CM, a fierce Jayalalithaa loyalist, and a person handpicked by her to lead the state ‘in her absence’, appears to fit the role perfectly – I repeat, for the moment.
However, in her blissful ignorance, Jayalalithaa never groomed anyone in the real sense to take over the mantle of leadership of the party in case of eventualities. A one-man act where the feeling that ‘She was the party, and the party was her’ always prevailed during her reign.
The question now supreme in everyone’s mind is whether the Jayalalithaa charisma will continue holding AIADMK together!
For certain, ‘Amma Domini’, politics in Tamil Nadu will chart an all-new course!(Published on 12nd December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 50)#