AMMA POWER: ON A FIRM FOOTING
By Biswadip Mitra
Dishevelled hair, tears in her eyes --- Jayalalithaa Jayaram must have vowed that day in 1989 to avenge her humiliation during the Budget Session of Tamil Nadu Assembly. She was targeted by the ruling party --- Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of M Karunanidhi --- indicating that the outrageously sexist political landscape of Tamil Nadu was not willing to let a woman oppose dominance of men. They unleashed their brute power against Jayalalithaa who had questioned the moral authority of Karunanidhi to rule the state. And DMK had thought that it would be able to ‘suppress’ Jayalalithaa and she won’t be a factor in the state’s politics.
But they were wrong. People of Tamil Nadu didn’t approve of Jayalalithaa’s humiliation. They responded overwhelmingly: the mighty lady of AIADMK was voted to power in 1991 as the state’s chief minister.
Jayalalithaa knows better than anyone that life is not a rosy affair. It’s not a silver screen which she dazzled through the decades. Life is tough and rugged, more so for a woman who wants to make a mark. Yet, Jayalalithaa decided that she would take a plunge into politics. Over the years, she has proved that nothing can stop a strong-willed woman like her from becoming one of the top politicians of world’s largest democracy.
Contrary to the popular perception that it was superstar-turned-chief minister MG Ramachandran who motivated her, the decision to join politics was entirely Jayalalithaa’s own. It was because of her sheer grit that from being MGR’s co-star on screen Jayalalithaa became his propaganda secretary in political affairs. It was not liked by many --- there were poison tongues that tried to influence MGR against Jayalalithaa. They did it earlier and they did it again in the 1980s. The end result was not sweet for Jayalalithaa, who felt forsaken and forgotten. However, by the time MGR died in 1987 it was unto Jayalalithaa to step into his shoes, to lead the party (AIADMK) which was known for its anti-Brahmin sloganeering. Interestingly, Jayalalithaa is a Brahmin herself, a Srirangam Iyengar to be precise. But she had managed to bring the party under her control and everyone looked up to her as MGR’s real heir.
Through the years Jayalalithaa’s political graph has seen changes. She has been in and out of office. She was voted out and hounded by the rivals. There have been allegations of scams and that did adversely impact Jayalalithaa. But each time she was written off, Jayalalithaa proved everyone wrong. Each time she returned to power, Jayalalithaa came back much stronger, with vengeance. Her appeal among the masses soared, who believed in her poll promises and in the strong sentiments that were expressed in her speeches.
In recent times there were questions whether she would return to power when Tamil Nadu goes to polls in a few months. There have been criticisms of the state government’s relief efforts during the recent floods in Tamil Nadu that prompted such speculation. However, despite such a negative perception, it is likely that Jayalalithaa will outsmart the DMK and her detractors, to retain grip over the southern state. Talk to the common people and the sense would be that they would much rather trust Jayalalithaa than the scam-tainted lot.
So why is Jayalalithaa popular with the Tamil masses, no matter what her rivals say and do? People say that as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa has proved her mettle as a skilled administrator. There are no serious governance issues and she has launched several welfare measures --- like the Amma canteens and Amma health check-up schemes --- that have been super hits like her films of yore. Law and order in the state is better than what it used to be; several extremists have been nabbed. Moreover, she has certainly made efforts to put the state high on the growth graph --- Tamil Nadu is now a major hub of automobile industry. Add to that the clean chit she got from the court in the disproportionate assets case.
Keeping all that in mind, and considering Jayalalithaa’s clout in terms of numbers in the Rajya Sabha --- AIADMK has 12 members in the Upper House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may require a helping hand from his good friend of Poes Garden time and again. Not surprisingly then, the Bharatiya Janata Party is mulling options: the Modi dispensation seems to be in favour of an alliance with AIADMK in the next Assembly election. However, it remains to be seen whether Jayalalithaa decides to ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party or marches ahead alone on her own strengths.
No matter what she does, it’s clear that Amma is on a firm footing now. She’s someone who draws strength from hostility and never gives up. And in the days to come she would have a greater say in the national politics. In other words, there will be no end to speculation whether Jayalalithaa has a national ambition. We have to wait and watch.