- Jayalalithaa was undoubtedly a titan of politics.
- However, her style of functioning was dubious at best.
- With her gone, it is time for a new style in Tamil Nadu.
Selvi Jayalalithaa was undoubtedly one of the titans of Indian politics. For nearly 30 years she dominated a not very liberal state. And she did it as a single, unattached woman. Her political achievements - ranging from leading the AIADMK to a historic third term to the numerous populist schemes - are staggering.
But, when one thinks about Jayalalithaa, what is the first image that comes to most minds?
In most cases, it is the sight of party members, MLAs and ministers lining up to, quite literally, throw themselves at her feet. With eyes closed and hands firmly in the 'namaskar' position, they became a common sight at every sight at every event she attended.
Considering the situation Jayalalithaa found herself in when MGR died in 1987, it is not surprising that she chose the 'absolute control' route. The party, fractured as it was between her and MGR's widow Janaki, was in shambles. And those who opposed her were certainly not above causing her physical harm in their bid to stall her rise. It made sense to ensure those who followed her were absolutely loyal.
Jayalalithaa long claimed that she did not encourage such acts. But it is impossible to believe that hundreds of people would continuously repeat this humbling act if the deed did not hold value.
For the rest of us, tt was a joke of sorts, which all of India chortled to. But in all honesty, it wasn't very funny.
What do those bows and feet touching represent? True 'love' does not require such acts. It is a public and open acknowledgement of the fact that all power stemmed from her and her alone. It represented a complete lack of faith in institutions - either of the AIADMK party or the Tamil Nadu state. It was a burial of the concepts of merit and earned positions.
One touched her feet because one understood that whatever one was in the party, it was because of her.
What about the electorate? After sweeping four elections, in three of which she collected 50% of all the votes cast, she could honestly claim to speak for about one in every two Tamilians. And through her endless doles and handouts, she tried to show that she knew what they left unsaid as well.
But again, what does this mean? What faith did the average voter have in the institutions of Tamil Nadu? It was obvious to all that the free mixers and Amma canteens were thanks to one person, and not part of any sustained policy to improve their lives.
Like an ancient Chola empress, it was as if all of this was her benevolence being directly handed out to her people. But the benevolence was never hers to give in the first place. It was public funds, gathered through taxes that always belonged to the people.
Ultimately what the Amma cult created was a bad attitude, where one voted for the person rather than the policy. Where one worked for the person rather than the party and where the state functioned for the person, rather than the people.
And now that person is no more - now what?
Perhaps the AIADMK will find yet another leader to fill the Jaya void, just like how she filled the MGR gap. But in a way, that would be a bad thing. As a state and as a nation, we must stop humbling ourselves for the sake of rights and doles that are ours in any case.
Collectively, as a people, we seem to have forgotten that politicians are merely custodians of our rights, not their owners.
In Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu found its strong leader. With her death, perhaps it is time for it to become a strong state.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:59 PM