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Tamil Nadu stares at leadership void as Karuna, Jaya remain in hospital

Jayalalithaa has been in the hospital since September 22 and Karunanidhi was admitted on Thursday.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2016 13:55 IST
Aditya Iyer
Aditya Iyer
Hindustan Times
Tamil Nadu,J Jayalalithaa,M Karunanidhi
DMK chief M Karunanidhi was admitted to a provate hospital in Chennai on Thursday.(PTI File Photo)

Tamil Nadu is facing an unusual situation. It has two leaders and both of them are incapacitated, being admitted to hospitals with different ailments.

State chief minister, 68-year-old actress turned politician, J Jayalalithaa has been undergoing treatment at a private hospital since September 22. Except for regular press releases issued by the hospital and occasional official statements, there is hardly any information to assuage the public’s curiosity about her condition.

DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, who has appeared largely conciliatory to his bitter rival during her recuperating period, too was admitted to a private hospital in Chennai on Thursday morning following an allergic reaction to his regular medication.

His son and heir apparent, party treasurer MK Stalin, told reporters that his nonagenarian father would be discharged in two days’ time.

The void created by the hospitalisation of the two leaders gives rise to a pertinent question the state is grappling with — why is there nobody in cult and stature equivalent of Jayalalithaa Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu politics?

Political observer blamed the culture of personality cults in contemporary Tamil politics for the vacuum.

“The DMK started it by making sure their brand of politics was personality-orientated,” says deputy editor of the Frontline RK Radhakrishnan. “Annadurai was the start, but what gradually became ingrained was that the individual’s actions could change society, not the collective’s.”

He was projected as a heroic leader of the masses, a mantle that, in turn, passed down to matinee idol MG Ramachandran —Jayalalithaa’s mentor.

“The DMK encouraged MGR to grow,” says veteran journalist Sampath Kumar. “But When Karunanidhi began sidelining all other leaders after Annadurai’s death, the actor-turned politician formed the ADMK.”

MGR is, to this day, revered in the state he ruled six times as “Puratchi Thalaivar” (Revolutionary Leader), and it is this adoration that Karunanidhi had to contend with.

“Karunanidhi too continued the idea of the leader as being an unassailable figure, deserving loyalty,” says Radhakrishnan, “The image of a strong leader had to be projected if the party was to have any chance against MGR’s charisma.”

It worked as the DMK managed to remain a political force to reckon with in the state politics despite being in the Opposition for 13 years, the longest period for any regional party.

But there is a price to pay for the success of this model.

First Published: Dec 02, 2016 07:55 IST