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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 24, Dated 18 June 2011

She never forgets.Will she forgive?

Tamil Nadu’s political establishment is waiting anxiously to see if Jayalalithaa will wreak revenge. Sai Manish tracks her moves

Chennai residents throng a free rice distribution function in Alwarpet

Amma’s largesse Chennai residents throng a free rice distribution function in Alwarpet


HOURS BEFORE former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MG Ramachandran was buried at the Marina Beach on Christmas eve in 1987, there was a bitter battle for his legacy between two women. J Jayalalithaa had made the first move, positioning herself strategically at the head of MGR’s lifeless body and later even climbed the gun carriage that ferried his body to the Marina. Unable to bear the sight of the ‘mistress’ hogging the limelight, MGR’s wife Janaki pinched her rival’s skin and tugged at her saree. Jayalalithaa, who had acted in 25 films alongside the iconic MGR, came crashing down from the carriage as waiting policemen led her away. But not before she had made her point.

Braving the wrath of Janaki, Jayalalithaa had occupied a vantage position not just on the gun carriage but also in the minds of millions as the chosen one — the inheritor of MGR’s legacy, the bearer of his power and the embodiment of his psyche. The woman who started off her political career by being pushed off her mentor’s gun carriage has jettisoned herself 24 years later onto a venerated pedestal fit for a demigod.

“Jaya version 2011 is still unpredictable as ever,” says a Tamil Nadu bureaucrat on the condition of anonymity. “But she has mellowed down, is more friendly to the media, suffers fools a bit more patiently and is less vindictive. I would say her nature hasn’t changed, but her strategy has.”


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But Jayalalithaa, who is renowned for her vengefulness, needs to worry less abut her opponents because the Centre and the CBI are already doing what she would have loved to do in power — settle old scores.

One of her first moves after assuming power was to erase any references to M Karunanidhi in the Tamil textbooks introduced under the Samacheer Kalvi system by the DMK government. Karunanidhi, who got his name printed as one of Tamil history’s great writers, now finds his name and poems missing from Class X textbooks. In a state like Tamil Nadu where politicians love to control minds and the media, Jaya’s move is seen as the first step to remove the remnants of the Karunanidhi family.

And that is why a certain MK Azhagiri will be anxiously watching the developments. “Azhagiri is one man she would love to harass,” says political analyst S Lakhmanan. “Stalin is not the real challenger after Karunanidhi. With his organisational prowess, Azhagiri is the prized target if she has to break the DMK. He should be a worried man. Her approach this time will be top-down. Start with Chennai and then in the second half of her tenure, move down to take on Azhagiri just a year before the 2014 Lok Sabha election.”

Jaya has refused to step into the new Secretariat built by the Karunanidhi regime

Another move has been the induction of non-Tamils to important bureaucratic posts. Jayalalithaa has hoisted Debendranath Sarangi, a 1977 batch IAS officer, to the post of Cabinet Secretary, replacing S Malathi, who was known as Karunanidhi’s blue-eyed girl. The Home Department sees Sheila Rani Chunkanath taking over as secretary in place of K Ganandesikan. Jaya has also replaced T Rajendran with JK Tripathy as Chennai Police Commissioner. “Tamil officers always have a soft corner for the DMK. Jaya wants none of that,” confides a senior bureaucrat.

Jaya is on a clean-up frenzy. She has refused to step into the Rs 1,400 crore new Assembly secretariat, which was inaugurated in a half-finished state by PMManmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Jaya has instituted an inquiry into the irregularities of building the complex and the scam is so glaring that rumour has it that Karunanidhi wouldn’t be able to escape the consequences of the probe to be headed by a retired high court judge.

“It is necessary to halt all construction activity at the new secretariat because any modification will destroy vital evidence showing how Karunanidhi and his family minted money from a project that was being built with public funds,” says Cho Ramaswamy, a close confidant of Jayalalithaa.

Jaya’s assault on Karunanidhi’s ‘dream’ — which the DMK patriarch was known to have loved so much that he would just spend hours staring at the secretariat’s fish tank — has left the DMK fuming. “She wanted to demolish Queen Mary’s College for building the secretariat. Stalin rescued the girls who were being forcibly pushed out of their hostels. Which woman would do that to another woman? Only the DMK could stop her. So she better be careful. We will be an active Opposition irrespective of her vendetta against us,” warns DMK Rajya Sabha MP Vasanthi Stanley.

JAYA HAS thrown the DMK sop opera out of the window and replaced them with her own. The Kalaignar Housing and Insurance schemes have been scrapped, leaving many in the lurch. “The medical insurance scheme was benefiting only the insurance companies,” says Cho. “It was a sham and Jaya will replace it with a scheme whose benefits really trickle down to the poor. For the housing scheme, only Rs 75,000 was being given. How can you build a concrete house with that money?”

But DMK leaders think otherwise. “She could have just changed the schemes’ name. Abolishing it was wrong. It is she who should be probed for this waste of public money just to satisfy her whims and fancies,” fumes DMK MP AKS Vijayan.

Jaya is also capitalising on the momentum and goodwill generated during the polls by rolling out freebies while the going is good. She has already announced free laptops for nearly 9 lakh students. And come 15 September, voters would start getting their first consignment of wet grinders, mixers and fans. Then, of course, there is free gold and marriage allowances for women — all to be rolled out this year.

Jaya is doing what Karunanidhi did when he came to power in 2006, but given her maverick ways, she will go overboard if the past is anything to go by. Her first term was dubbed the ‘stint of corruption’ by the media with the New York Times describing her foster son’s outlandish wedding in 1995 as a charade of “maharajahlike opulence and a show of political defiance”. But defiance took uglier forms with attacks on her political rivals, including Union Home Minister P Chidambaram who narrowly escaped an attack on his car at the Trichy airport in 1991.

During her first stint, she stifled bureaucratic dissent and an IAS officer, Chandralekha, had her face splashed with acid for opposing Jaya’s disinvestments policies. Even Governor Channa Reddy found himself being accused of ‘molesting’ Jaya. In her second term, she clamped down hard on her opponents but also punched the middle class with an iron fist.

“Her behaviour will not change,” reveals a veteran political observer. “It can be explained by her lonely childhood. A sensitive introvert, she was deeply hurt by what transpired after her father died. Having the company of people who always praise her makes her secure. So she can’t stand people who question or admonish her. That explains Sasikala’s proximity to her. Despite being put behind bars, she did not turn approver and refused to reveal anything that may go against Jaya. She appreciates those kind of people.”

But for a woman who never forgets the past, the next five years could either be a pugilist exhibition with a knockout or an exercise in self-aggrandisement. Her position is formidable. The voters are waiting for their democratic dividend to be doled out by their beloved Amma and her alliance partner is the leader of the Opposition. This surreal scenario should give the queen bee the licence to go for the kill.

Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 24, Dated 18 June 2011



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