Why India grieved when Tamil Nadu lost a CM
Greater reverberations were felt across India after J Jayalalithaa’s death than the demise of any other Chief Minister of a southern State that one can recall — not even her iconic mentor, MG Ramachandran, better known as MGR.
One can argue that in 1987, when MGR died, there was no 24/7 colour television or social media. It can also be said that compulsions of coalition politics were much less in those days resulting in lower visibility of southern stalwarts in north of Vindhyas.
Still, Jayalalithaa captured the attention and imagination of the country at large much more than any of her contemporaries or predecessors, one may argue. And, this was not just for her glamorous past, majestic mystique or simply that she was a woman in the patriarchal world of Dravidian politics, but the sheer aura of her personality.
There was of course a carry over of her silver screen image and sympathy for a woman wronged, who rose through sheer grit and determination. But, there are several other factors that distinguished her from other regional leaders in the eyes of people living far away from Tamil Nadu.
In her now infamous interview for a foreign TV channel by a Delhi-based journalist, Jayalalithaa talks of northerners painting all southern politicians with the same tainted brush of corruption. This was probably true to a large extent. But, over time people started viewing her brand of ‘corruption’ as relatively benign on multiple counts.
First, in a somewhat selfish and myopic way, her party’s alleged amassing of wealth was not seen as being done at the expense of the entire nation unlike, for example, the DMK’s involvement in the 2G scam. The AIADMK’s game was largely perceived to be a local phenomenon – of robbing Peter to pay Paul. As long as her constituents did not mind, who are we to object appeared to be the attitude. Even when she was convicted in the ‘disproportionate assets’ case, the national mood seemed to empathise with her for the ‘disproportionate punishment’ for just a couple of crores not accounted for, more in the nature of being jailed for a minor parking offence.
The scale of corruption that one had become accustomed to see in the north and even in some other southern States did not make her look like a gigantic exception. Besides, the absence of a ‘dynasty’ or promoting her own kith and kin were seen as a huge differentiator from not only her principal adversaries in Tamil Nadu (not just the DMK) but also her northern counterparts – except, perhaps, Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik.
The tales of her path-breaking social welfare schemes, that travelled up north, over compensated for any allegations of graft and greed. The fact that despite all the talk of corruption, investors — both domestic and foreign — were still flocking to Tamil Nadu was a massive testimony to her administrative acumen.
Overall, Jayalalithaa was never viewed as a leader acting against the national interest. For her certainly “the people of Tamil Nadu” (as distinct from only Tamilians) came first but so did India. Therefore, her stand on Sri Lanka has always been consistent. She never put the interest of Tamils before India – which was evident from her attitude towards the LTTE. She may have been chauvinistic but never thrived on strident use of sub-nationalist sentiments. Her politics was one of personal charisma.
Though statistics of social and economic indices of Tamil Nadu are only now being highlighted after her death, the casual visitor from the north (be it tourists, business travellers or those going for medical treatment to Chennai, Coimbatore and Vellore) could not have missed the governance and administrative excellence of the State during her tenure. Such was her power and aura that her writ ran even when she was managing in absentia.
Finally, it was her personality. She was one epitome of dignity and grace in Indian politics. Like any consummate politician, she had her own way of manipulation and negotiation, but never once did she demean herself by any unbecoming public posturing.
In the interview mentioned earlier, despite provocation and prodding by the belligerent interviewer, she held her own on the subject of “persons of foreign origin” becoming Prime Minister, while making it clear that the view has got nothing to with any single individual.
These are qualities that have gone totally missing in Indian politics. That is why people across the nation are willing to overlook her faults. In the long run, all that matters is what she did for her people. That is what history will remember her for.
If millions of people loved, adored and worshipped her, it cannot be for freebies alone. She was the Queen of their hearts.
Article first published in @ABPLive