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The Jayalalithaa legacy: Not corruption, but compassion and people-centric governance

The victory in the trust vote by E Palaniswami of AIADMK’s VK Sasikala faction was a foregone conclusion when the reticent governor, C Vidyasagar Rao, invited the latter to form the government.

opinion Updated: Feb 18, 2017 22:10 IST
Jayalalithaa,Tamil Nadu,AIADMK
A candle-light ceremony by the students of Everwin school at Kolathur to honour former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa.(Vanne Srinivasulu/HT Photo)

The victory in the trust vote by E Palaniswami of AIADMK’s VK Sasikala faction was a foregone conclusion when the reticent governor, C Vidyasagar Rao, invited the latter to form the government. Despite the drama that preceded the vote,Palaniswami’s victory does not mark the end of the crisis in Tamil Nadu.

Palaniswami is a loathed figure for the mere fact that he is from the Sasikala faction of the party. The revulsion against the official faction is so widespread that the MLAs owing allegiance to it apparently fear going back to their constituencies. The opposing camp led by O Panneerselvam is the direct beneficiary of this public anger.

What is important to note is that both factions claim they are the true inheritors of Jayalalithaa’s legacy. And this despite the fact that the Supreme Court has indicted the dead leader for corruption.

Does that change the Jaya legacy? Is it now tainted by the conviction? Many political observers might want to think so.

Anybody who even remotely followed the news in the 1990s will remember the ridiculous levels of ostentation that rivaled Imelda Marcos of the Philippines. But the ground reality in the aftermath of her conviction does not in any way indicate that the sheen has come off her legacy.

It is a strange quirk of politics that O Paneerselvam, with his late attack of conscience, has emerged the hero, but that he upholds the legacy of a convicted criminal, speaks volumes of what Jayalalithaa managed at the fag end of her life.

She managed to ensure a victory without the need for electoral alliances which ensure victory. The victory of 2016 was completely hers. She depended on the support of the people of Tamil Nadu for all the social schemes she launched to make the state one of the most progressive in the country.

The AMMA schemes were ridiculed. The schemes seemed to be replete with narcissistic excesses, but for the people of Tamil Nadu, the inexpensive meals or the schemes to empower women made a huge difference. For Jayalalithaa it was the cementing of her political future.

So yes, corruption is a bane. Egoistic whims are a problem. But in the everyday reality of those on the margins society, it was a mother’s benevolence.

Jayalalithaa was forgiven her excesses. The “pervading pestilent presence of corruption” was a thing of the past. It was in fact transferred to the ‘wicked’ machinations of Sasikala. Amma is benevolent and fragile, while her conniving companion lives on to become the hate figure. That is the genius of Amma’s legacy. That is the sheen that will make the Jaya memorial a must-go destination for teeming admirers.

So while one would not want to hazard a guess on how long Palananiswami will last as chief minister or how and when the AIADMK will implode, one would not even hazard a guess how long more Tamil Nadu will endure Sasikala and her extended family’s control over party and government. But one thing is clear, corruption or no corruption, Jayalalithaa with all her flaws will remain an endearing Amma for the Tamil multitude until the collective conscience of the people will reassess her legacy probably years from now.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

First Published: Feb 18, 2017 19:02 IST