Jayalalithaa is back again: Bigger, stronger—and with bad news for the BJP

Just can’t get enough.
Just can’t get enough.
Image: AP Photo/Arun Sankar K.
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Tamil Nadu loves its demigod politicians. And with the Karnataka high court exonerating former chief minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader Jayalalithaa of all corruption charges, the “Golden Star,” “Revolutionary Leader,” and “Goddess of Hearts,” as posters hail her, has now become larger than life.

The brand of Amma, as she is also known, is seemingly unbeatable following the verdict.

“The verdict has enhanced her brand tremendously,” said Vaasanthi, political analyst and author of a book on the cult of Jayalalithaa. “Now ‘Amma the giver’ is no longer a metaphor for her followers; it is a reality. She is invincible, blameless, pure and victimised, all of which stands for the perfect woman. So it sells more now than ever.”

Jayalalithaa’s conviction in September 2014 on corruption charges forced her to abdicate her post of chief minister and go into virtual house arrest for seven months. Meanwhile, her party cadre and ministers hailed her as “Makkalin Mudhalvar” (the people’s chief minister) and conducted fervent prayers for her in temples, churches and mosques across the state. With her acquittal on appeal in the Karnataka high court, the mood within the party is exuberant.

“Brand Amma had a dent recently due to various court issues,” veteran journalist and political observer Gnani Sankaran said. “Now that dent is gone. Although corruption continues in the state, people may still vote for her. Corruption is yet to become the pivotal issue for the electorate. It is a very peculiar mindset among the people of Tamil Nadu.”

Even Jayalalithaa’s political rivals agree. A beleaguered Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), whose leaders face corruption charges like the 2G and Aircel-Maxis cases, is worried. “She will finish us off now for sure,” said a senior DMK leader on condition of anonymity. “Jayalalithaa is the elephant in the room now, after her acquittal.”


body blow

Since campaigning began for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Tamil Nadu has been trying to position itself as the non-Dravidian alternative to the main parties, the AIADMK and the DMK. And with Jayalalithaa’s acquittal though, the BJP could stand to lose whatever little traction it had gained lately.

Image for article titled Jayalalithaa is back again: Bigger, stronger—and with bad news for the BJP

“The BJP will go for an alliance with Amma; it is very suitable for them,” said Sankaran. “They may gain 20-30 MLAs (members of legislative assembly) by allying with her. If they contest on their own, they won’t even get 2 MLAs. In the near future, they can only align with Jaya, they cannot think of doing it alone.”

Shortly after her acquittal, both prime minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted their congratulations to Jayalalithaa.

“We have congratulated her because it is politics. Congratulations as such doesn’t mean anything significant. She has a personal equation with the top leaders of the BJP. It does not immediately mean an alliance,” Tamilisai Soundarajan, the BJP’s state president in Tamil Nadu, said. “We are very firm on our anti-corruption plank.”

“Now she will be the real chief minister and not the people’s chief minister,” she added, breaking into laughter.

The BJP, however, continues to insist that they are an alternative force in the state. “We are now the non-DMK alternative, after Jaya’s verdict,” said the BJP’s national secretary, H Raja. “Regarding an alliance I cannot say anything at this stage.”

Nonetheless, Jayalalithaa’s position is now unassailable.

“Jaya is the most powerful politician now in the south,” said Vaasanthi. “She has an absolute, brute majority in the state and has been absolved of all accusations leveled against her. She comes out as a clean woman and the BJP would have no qualms about tying up with a clean woman.”