Jayalalithaa’s death anniversary: The needle has not really moved in Tamil Nadu politics
The political developments in Tamil Nadu in the past one year reminds us of the need for a towering leader like Jayalalithaaopinion Updated: Dec 04, 2017 16:31 IST
This Christmas Eve, it will be known as to who succeeds J Jayalalithaa as member of the Tamil Nadu Assembly from the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency. But the void her death, on December 5, 2016, has created in the state’s political arena will persist and the future of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the party she spearheaded for close to three decades and led it to victory in four assembly elections, continues to hang in balance.
Although Jayalalithaa left the AIADMK not just as the ruling party in the state but as the third-biggest party in Lok Sabha with 37 members and the fourth in Rajya Sabha with 13 members, its inheritors have been caught floundering in asserting the state’s rights and standing up to the Centre — a trait of Jayalalithaa that had endeared her to the masses.
So when the state government meekly gave up on the fight against NEET (National Eligibility Entrance Test) for medical college admission, ignoring popular sentiment, and when it led to the suicide of medical aspirant Anita, the people missed Jayalalithaa, recalling how she had opposed the Centre’s bid to impose its modes of admission in the state. Of course, her loss was felt much earlier. First when the Marina was under siege over Jallikattu and then when the protest was brought to a cruel closure. The popular perception was that Jayalalithaa would not have allowed an uprising like that to fester and prolong for such a long time and then she would definitely not have let loose the police on young people so brutally.
Even when the Centre brought in the Goods and Services Tax (GST), amidst the widespread resentment, there was a reminder of Jayalalithaa’s opposition to it. In fact, social activists, who probably were not on the same page as her when she ruled the state, lament the passing of a plethora of central legislation that Jayalalithaa had opposed with the AIADMK giving its nod after her hospitalisation in September 2016. They squarely blame it on the inefficacy of the ‘team’ that has inherited Jayalalithaa’s mantle.
The present leadership of the party, after the farcical display of unity by the Edapadi Palaniswami faction and the O Panneerselvam faction, and the subsequent dismissal of the Sasikala-Dinakaran group, inspires little confidence. The absence of Jayalalithaa is constantly evident in the clueless statements by the ministers, and in dim-witted ideas like covering a reservoir with thermocol to prevent water from evaporating. Instances of the governor meddling with administrative matters with impunity led to speculation of the Centre’s role in state matters. All these were reminders of Jayalalithaa’s absence.
Perhaps her loss would have been compensated if her political bete noire, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s M Karunanidhi, had been active, at least if his wit and sarcasm was sharp. His absence due to illness accentuated the sense of emptiness—a void which suddenly caught the attention of many, especially the ‘stars’ from filmdom. Of course the stars, mainly Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan, linger around with hope and expectation, though the popular perception is that they are mere pretenders to the throne. Also, none of these stars appear interested in cultivating a political base from the grassroots; they aim for the throne at Fort St George.
The most recent from Kollywood to move in this direction is actor Vishal, the president of the general secretary of the actors federation and president of Tamil Film Producers Council. His foray into the RK Nagar electoral arena is a response to a perceived popular disillusionment over the lack of a powerful icon helming the state’s politics. It is a different matter that Vishal, or for the matter his seniors Rajnikant and Haasan, will not be able to fill the political vacuum caused by Jayalalithaa’s demise.
The BJP, too, is not a worthy contender at the moment. Apart from its local leaders regularly failing to gauge public sentiments, it is difficult for them to overcome the wave of antipathy in the state that has not collectively come out of the Dravidian ideological grip completely. The AIADMK, by letting itself to be seen as a stooge of the BJP, has shot itself in the foot, giving the DMK a leg up.
So really, all eyes are on the developments that will unfold later this month.
G Babu Jayakumar is a Chennai-based senior journalist
The views expressed are personal