Taking one’s own life because of the misfortune suffered by a political leader or a public personage is nothing new in Tamil Nadu, or even Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. So it came as no surprise when, according to the AIADMK, 193 people committed suicide on hearing of then Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s brief incarceration in a Rs 66-crore disproportionate assets case. But in what seems like a gesture condoning these deaths, the AIADMK leader has announced a cash relief of Rs 3 lakh to the families of those who died. It does not end here. She also announced a payment of Rs 50,000 to the three who tried to commit suicide. Attempted suicide is a criminal offence under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code and so in effect Jayalalithaa is supporting a criminal act. To be rewarded for showing such ‘devotion’ to a leader will only encourage this pernicious trend.
When former TN chief minister MG Ramachandran died in 1987, around 30 of his followers were alleged to have committed suicide. When Kannada actor Rajkumar died in 2006 there were rumours that many of his followers had taken their lives. When the then Andhra Pradesh CM YSR Reddy died in a helicopter crash in 2009, there were reports that more than 100 people died of ‘shock’. In a sub-culture where the popularity of a leader is measured by the vandalism his/her followers indulge in or by the number of followers who either hurt themselves or commit suicide when their leader suffers a setback or has died, the AIADMK’s gesture may seem perfectly rational to the faithful. The move appears to be an attempt by Jayalalithaa to exploit the sentiments of the people. More dangerously, her ‘generosity’ comes across as a reminder to her followers that mindless devotion will be compensated.
Jayalalithaa is a popular leader who enjoys enormous support in Tamil Nadu. As a progressive leader, she should have no truck with this practice and should take steps to end this trend. She is an able administrator and has done commendable work for the disadvantaged. But this is a blot on her copybook which she must erase without delay.