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Portrait of a corrupt leader: Jayalalithaa’s image in TN assembly sends the wrong message

In all likelihood, had she been alive, Jayalalithaa would have been in the Bengaluru Central Jail, like the three co-accused, including close aide Sasikala, in the disproportionate assets case. The Supreme Court’s observations in the case leave little room for doubt about Jayalalithaa’s corruption

editorials Updated: Feb 14, 2018 12:14 IST
Hindustan Times
AIADMK,Tamil Nadu,Jayalalithaa
AIADMK leaders during the unveiling of a portrait of late AIADMK chief and former CM J Jayalalithaa, Fort St George, Chennai, February 12(PTI)

It’s been more than a year since the death of former Tamil Nadu chief minister, J Jayalalithaa. Two things stand out about the state government she headed and her party, the AIADMK in this period: One, the government is yet to get back on track (and is moving from one controversy to the other). Second, the AIADMK leadership is desperately hanging on to the legacy of Amma, as Jayalalithaa was called by the party cadre. On Monday, both these aspects were evident when a seven-foot portrait of Jayalalithaa was unveiled in the Tamil Nadu assembly by Speaker P Dhanapal. The AIADMK government’s decision to put up the portrait in the face of reservations from the Opposition, and at a time when the Madras High Court is hearing a public interest litigation against the display of photos of convicted leaders in government buildings, is unfortunate.

The AIADMK’s argument that Jayalalithaa’s contribution to the state cannot be ignored is not acceptable, although, to be fair, Tamil Nadu did see significant development across several parameters when she was in charge. Still, in all likelihood, had she been alive, Jayalalithaa would have been in the Bengaluru Central Jail, like the three co-accused, including close aide Sasikala, in a case involving disproportionate assets. The Supreme Court’s observations in the case leave little room for doubt about Jayalalithaa’s corruption. Given this, unveiling her portrait in the assembly compromises the essential principle that probity in public life is non-negotiable. It also discredits her party.

Apart from sanctifying her wrongs, the portrait also sends out the message that dishonesty and corruption are condonable as long as the person concerned is seen as a mass leader and saviour of the poor.

Had it not been driven by short-term gains, the AIADMK’s Palaniswami-Panneerselvam combine could have signalled its intolerance of corruption. But the duo chose instead to try and use the portrait as part of its efforts consolidate the AIADMK’s fragmented vote base and further sideline rebel leader TTV Dhinakaran. It would seem then that little has changed in Tamil Nadu and that the EPS-OPS government attaches little premium to raising the bar of probity in public life.

First Published: Feb 14, 2018 12:02 IST