At around 4pm, the deputy Lok Sabha speaker nervously watches as a crowd begins to fill the campaign ground in Kanchipuram’s Varanavasi village.
Amma is yet to take off from Chennai, but AIADMK campaign managers frantically go about preparing the venue for their leader. Half an hour later, all 18 party candidates from Kanchipuram, Tirvarur and Tiruvannamalai districts are asked to take their seats about five feet below the stage, where Jayalalithaa’s chair awaits her.
It’s a dress rehearsal of sorts.
The candidates are in their sharpest — men in starched white lungi and white shirt and women in green sarees with matching blouse and, of course, the mandatory angavastram in party colours draped on their shoulders.
Once the manager is satisfied, the candidates stand and wait for Amma’s arrival. The mic is double-checked, and everything appears to be in order.
Amid wild cheers of proval, M Thambidurai informs the crowd that Amma will grace them with her presence soon. The long wait for the audience and the AIADMK leaders, none of whom took a seat the entire time, ends at 5:30pm as two helicopters land at a makeshift helipad a few yards away, setting off a mini dust storm. Some candidates rush through the cloud of dust to greet Jayalalithaa, who is surrounded by an entourage of security guards.
After a customary puja, the candidates bow to their leader in deference. Only after Amma nodded in approval that anyone took their seat.
In fact, it was this deference for the leader in the AIADMK that DMK treasurer and former deputy chief minister MK Stalin mocked at an election rally in Karur district. Jayalalithaa sits high on a podium and all the candidates sit way down below, as if practicing untouchability, Stalin said.
He even singled out finance minister O Panneerselvam to highlight the servility of people under the AIADMK leader and said “this hurts the pride of the people”.
But Jayalalithaa remains unaffected by such criticism, and the AIADMK lugs this tradition along.
Once on stage, she wastes no time launching into her speech — a routine, predictable fare — a report card of her government, a list of her achievements, promises fulfilled and an attack on the DMK and its patriarch M Karunanidhi. Her monologue receives thunderous applause from her devotees, guided by a man in a safari suit directing the audience to clap from the edge of the dais. But for her followers, the content of her speech really doesn’t matter.
“I had come to see her and am happy I did,” said Kannambika from Cheyyur. “She has done so much for us. Yes, there was some hardship during floods, but on the whole, things are much better for us now.”
Everywhere you look, Amma’s face stares back at you. Giant picture cut-outs line the venue. The most prominent of all is a massive poster of MGR handing over a torch to Jayalalithaa. In between, CN Anna Durai and her mentor MGR make a few appearances, but it is clear who the supreme leader is.