Tamil Nadu Politics: Who deserves the Mantle of Jayalalithaa?

The recent political developments have drawn the attention every Bharatiya to the Southern state of Tamil Nadu. Anyone with a little idea about the politics and people of Tamil Nadu is voicing their opinion. It would be interesting to have a brief look at the subtleties of the political intricacies of the state that led to the vaccum after Jayalalithaa’s death.

Tamil Nadu has always been a mirage for the national parties ever since DMK grabbed power from the Congress in 1967. One of the main reasons for such an active existence of regional parties here is the antipathy of the people against Hindi imposition. Tamils have always been suspicious about the foisting of Hindi along with English to make Tamil irrelevant.

This, along with the reluctance of Tamils to choose national parties, has always kept them mysterious for the people from the rest of the country. The cultural uniqueness of the Tamils has also led to the rise of regional politics. Moreover, the anti-Hindu sentiments of the Dravidian parties have been striving to secularise the cultural festivals with Hindu roots. However, incapability of the national parties to recognise the uniqueness of Tamil cultural practices added to the alienation of Tamil life from the larger Hindu civilisation.

The anti-Hindu activities of the atheist Dravidian party which grabbed power from Congress in 1967 prompted Tamils to see an alternative in ADMK formed by MGR in 1977. MGR, though he was a part of the atheist Dravidian politics, acted as a leader of the masses. He behaved as a proper Hindu in public and was not shy to visit temples. As any other Hindu ruler believing in “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”, he maintained his secular fabric and established many welfare schemes such as raising the quality of public distribution system, and served high-quality food in government schools. From there on he grew into a supreme leader, and never lost a single election.

MGR & Jayalalithaa

After his death as the chief minister in 1987, his party, ADMK fell into a succession war. The confusions generated out of the competition between two leaders, MGR’s wife Janaki and his groomed successor Jayalalithaa split the party.

This rift which created many political uncertainties was put to rest when Jayalalithaa became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1991. Before that, DMK ruled for a while, and in a shocking episode, DMK MLAs assaulted and tried to disrobe Jayalalithaa in the legislative assembly. A battered Jaya took a vow to return to the assembly only as the chief minister. This scathing incident played a significant role in her ascent.

Jayalithaa was a practising Hindu all her life. Right after she took over the reins, the country witnessed communal tensions over the demolition of Babri Masjid that stood on the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. She was the only chief minister to oppose the idea of preventive detention of Hindu leaders during National Integration Council meeting conveyed after the Babri incident. She said since secularism means equality and not appeasement of minorities, detention of innocent people who just wanted the right to practice their religion cannot be justified.

Jayalalithaa’s career has been clouded with many corruption charges. Along with her close aide Sasikala and Sasikala’s family (Mannargudi mafia), she acquired lots of properties across Tamil Nadu. She had to suffer election defeats as well as legal implications for corruption.

However, she proved her mettle by staying calm, single-heartedly pursuing her duty unaffected by any challenges. Her reign after the acquittal in 2002, was along the path of MGR. She did not hesitate to live her public life as a devout Hindu while introducing new welfare schemes for entire society irrespective of their religious background. The mainstream media which loathed her life as a Hindu in public projected her as a Hindu leader.

On one such an attempt, she replied to the press about Ram mandir “If we cannot construct a temple in Bharat for Lord Rama, then where else can we build it? It should be built.” She introduced a very efficient rainwater harvesting scheme and baby adoption centres to prevent female infanticide which earned her the title “amma”. She became a mass leader through this “Amma” epithet- Amma canteens, Amma drinking water etc. got etched in the heart of the Tamils.

Jayalalithaa was an elephant lover too. In 2001, she donated an elephant in Kerala’s Guruvayur Srikrishna Temple. Later, under her, Tamil Nadu government started conducting a 48-day-long vacation for temple elephants in the wilderness. As many as 35 pachyderms attended the ‘rejuvenation camp’ in Theppakadu reserve forest along the Moyar river in the Mudumalai hills. The health camp was launched in 2003 by Jaya Government but was later abandoned by the DMK government, but she restored this practice again in 2011. The high crime rate during the previous DMK government was also brought under control.

However, she was convicted and arrested in the disproportionate assets case by the special court in 2014. She handed over the chief minister seat to her most loyal party man O. Panneerselvam for the second time. OPS took care of the government till Jaya came back in 2015, after Karnataka High Court acquitted her. Panneerselvam, under the guidance of Jayalalithaa, and by the wishes of many party cadres who conducted special prayers in many temples, started the renovation of badly maintained ancient temples across the state.

Later, Jaya stepped up the works, and by 2016 elections almost every ancient temple in the state of Tamil Nadu was either renovated or under the process of renovation. One of the temples is Adikeshava Perumal Temple of Thiruvattar, the sree koil of which was not renovated in the past 400 years.

Jayalalitha won the 2016 elections with a secular agenda where she didn’t care to appease the minorities. Her victory in 2016 elections came as a surprise to many as she won despite the Bishops Council asking the Christian voters to vote for DMK. The minorities were unhappy with the temple restoration works and other projects like Anna Dana schemes in temples.

Amma made a first time MLA, O. Panneerselvam, as a standby Chief Minister while the Supreme Court barred her from holding the office of the Chief Minister. He refused to sit in Amma’s chair. Instead, he chose an empty chair next to Amma’s chair. Once Jaya recognised OPS as Bharatha, the brother of Lord Rama, who ruled the Kingdom of Ayodhya during the Vanvas of Sri Rama. She had seen an efficient administrator in this seasoned politician.

O. Panneerselvam took charge as the Chief Minister for the third time after the death of Jayalalitha. His demeanour as a leader of the land during the Jallikattu protests elevated him from the shadows of Amma to a man of duty. His sincere efforts enabled the state to withstand the damages caused by the cyclone vardah. He took steps to bring the water of Krishna from Andhra Pradesh, anticipating water scarcity.

OPS who lives his life in simplicity has been readily available to the commoners whenever necessary despite being the chief minister of the state. A sudden resignation by him in support of Sasikala was a shock to many considering Sasikala’s unpopularity. Two days after the resignation, Panneerselvam went to Jaya’s samadhi for meditation. After that, he addressed the press and stated that he was forced to issue the resignation and declared the ascent of Sasikala in the party as illegal.

There was a huge uproar in national media as they were indirectly supporting Sasikala’s takeover by quoting the constitution. The people though wished for the installation of Panneerselvam whom they considered as a man loyal to Jaya and one who would uphold democratic principles. Social media voiced its support for Panneerselvam.

Only then, a lot many aspects of his life as a traditional man from humble background came out. He has been maintaining goshala for indigenous cows. It was surprising for the people to see a politician who didn’t use his credentials as a goshala keeper to rise to stardom during the Jallikattu agitation. He has been a regular pilgrim to Sabarimala all the years strictly following the mandala vrata. Probably, the antagonism of the national media to Panneerselvam could have been due to his staunch Hindu credentials. However, it strengthened his stature among the crowds. Unlike the general convention, Tamil Nadu is a state of devout Hindus.

Even though Edapadi Palanisami garnered the support of the majority MLAs of AIADMK, it is not wise to write off the OPS faction. If they revolt to split the party and manage to win the by-elections following their disqualification, the 11 MLAs might grow more powerful. OPS can benefit from the popular support and mature as a mass leader inheriting the mantle of Jayalalitha.

Sasikala’s unpopularity is evident from the apparent relief the Tamils expressed during her arrest. Also, Palanisami has been receiving huge criticism from various corners.

MGR was from Kerala, Jayalalithaa was from Karnataka, and yet the people of Tamil Nadu adopted them as their leaders. Will a Thevarmagan be anointed as the ruler of the Tamil people? Only time will tell.


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About the Author

Dauhshanti & Paanchajanyaa
@Dauhshanti - A proud Polytheist & Idolater, blessed to be born into the civilization of Bharata. @paanchajanyaa - Soldier of dharma... Yato dharmas tato jayah...