Chief minister of Tamil Nadu, leader to many Tamils and ‘Amma’ to millions, J Jayalalithaa died on Monday after undergoing treatment at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai for 75 days. She was 68.
Jayalalithaa, who was admitted to hospital on September 22 with complaints of fever and dehydration, suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening. On Monday, Jayalalithaa continued to be very critical and was on extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and life support systems. And the end came at 11.30pm.
“Every member of the Apollo Hospitals family, the clinicians, the nursing and paramedical staff have strived hard to provide the highest standards of care to our beloved chief minister. We have worked tirelessly combining the might of the clinical and technological resources at our command with the spirit of healing and compassion that inspires us. We join the nation and the people of Tamil Nadu in deeply mourning her loss,” the hospital said in a statement.
Jayalaithaa’s death, the course of power politics in Tamil Nadu is bound to be eventful and dramatic just as three previous landmark episodes in her life — the melodramatic movies she starred to win the Tamil hearts; her action-thriller takeover of AIADMK after MGR’s death; and the eventful manner she, finally, signed off as the reigning queen.
The aftershocks of shake-up in the State politics will also be felt in Delhi. As it happened after MGR’s death, the post-Amma leadership search could also see the Centre, along with prime players of AIADMK especially Sasikala — holding the strings. The NDA regime would be tactically keen to have a friendly/controlled AIADMK regime in Tamil Nadu as the party’s 11 Rajya Sabha MPs (plus 30 plus in Lok Sabha) could help Modi government smoothen its arithmetic in Upper House.
When MGR died in 1987, AIADMK saw a power tussle. Knowing AIADMK was vertically split, its then ally Congress said it was backing “only the undivided legacy of MGR”. With the split in AIADMK had given 30 odd Congress MLAs the ‘tilting role’, the Delhi durbar started positioning; First it post-humously conferred Bharat Ratna on MGR. Then two AICC observers — M O H Farooq and Arunachanalam — reached Delhi to script Congress MLAs’ stand in the leadership tussle between Jayalalithaa and MGR’s widow Janaki Ramachandran. Two top Tamil Nadu Congress leaders too were in splits with G K Moopananr backing Jayalalithaa and R Venkataraman for Janaki.
AICC observers told party MLAs to vote for Jayalaithaa in floor test, resulting 10 Congress MLAs led by E V K S Elangovan revolting to vote for Janaki, making the floor-test close. As MLAs clashed on the Assembly floor ahead of voting, police entered and resorted to lathi-charge. Then Speaker Pandyna, a Janaki supporter, disqualified some AIADMK MLAs backing Jaya and controversially-declared Janaki as winner of floor-test, resulting in a huge controversy. Centre imposed President’s rule and eventually Jaya won a dominant verdict in the next Assembly poll to become CM with Congress backing.
Now, as Tamil Nadu faces another vacuum, the Modi government must have fully updated itself with the role Central government played after MGR’s death.
There is some ‘quantitative difference’ now; the Delhi-ruling BJP has no MLA in Tamil Nadu Assembly and Congress has just eight MLAs. In the 232-member Tamil Nadu Assembly (with 117 as half-way-mark) , AIADMK has 134 seats, followed by DMK’s 89 and Muslim League’s one. On paper Delhi (BJP), has no MLA to play around like Congress did in 1987. But, party’s power at the Centre makes its important.
As Jayalalithaa has no biological heir or a declared political successor and, with AIADMK’s organisation/ideological engine is solely driven by ‘Amma bhakti’, her departure could open up an overt, or covert, powers struggle for top post, thus providing a tactical opening for Centre. Though acting Chief Minister Pannerselvam has now become the full-fledged chief of the government, the buzz in Delhi is that since Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation three months ago her politically-driven friend Sasikala (Pannerselvam is her loyalistvas weel) has taken effective control of AIADMK, and she may want to remain so. After Amma, majority of AIADMK MLAs will follow Sasikala even though some others may resent her consolidation.
Given the rift within AIADMK and the fact DMK too is looking for an fishing in the muddied waters, Centre’s supporting role, many think, will be a strategic requirement for Sasikala faction to ensure a smooth transition. Political circles attribute AIADMK’s recent softening of its stand — in the GST council and the “Uday’ electricity reforms scheme to Sasikala camp’s way of humoring Centre. AIADMK’s ongoing opposition to demonetisation is seen as a bargaining chip. Given Sasikala herself figures in the disproportional assets case, some argue, she would be prone to pushes from Centre to ensure a ‘convenient’ transition.
At the same time, many feel given Tamil Nadu’s strong ‘identity politics’, any temptation for the north Indian BJP-led Centre to try and ‘replicate Arunachal Pradesh brand of politics’ could trigger violent responses.
The state and the country is going to miss Amma.
Thousands lined the route as Ms Jayalalithaa’s body was taken to Marina Beach on an Army truck in a slow procession. It took over an hour to cover the three kilometres from Rajaji Hall, a public auditorium in Chennai where Ms Jayalalithaa’s body lay in state all day. Lakhs of people packed the large grounds of Rajaji Hall and grown men and women wept in grief as they attempted to reach the body of their beloved Amma or mother as Ms Jayalalithaa was fondly known to her millions of supporters.
Sasikala Natarajan, dressed in black, was near Jayalalithaa’s body all day and rode in the hearse to Marina Beach. At Rajaji Hall both she and O Panneerselvam, who took oath last night as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, were consoled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Chennai to pay his respects to Jayalalithaa.
Chief Ministers of eight states like Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal and Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi were among many top political leaders who attended Jayalalithaa’s funeral. Thousands of supporters were also present.
In huge relief for the administration, there has been no violence since the news of Jayalalithaa’s death. For lakhs whose devotion to her bordered on the religious, self-harming shows of loyalty were not uncommon.
When she was arrested on corruption charges in 2014, her party said 200 people committed suicide in anger and sorrow. Public buses were set on fire. From within jail, the politician asked as urged by the Supreme Court for calm to be maintained.
Jayalalithaa was revered especially by the rural poor for the vast amount of giveaways she provided mixer-grinders, laptops ahead of elections. In recent years, her government introduced the Amma brand of massively subsidised water, canteens and medicines which endeared her further to the poor, while stressing the state’s finances.
Earlier this year, Jayalalithaa beat a nearly three-decade-long tradition to be re-elected as Chief Minister, her fourth term. Before that, Tamil Nadu alternated between choosing Jayalalithaa and political adversary, the DMK.
In life and death, Amma will be remembered for setting new paths and traditions.