Jayalalithaa's birthday: Why AIADMK is overdoing the celebrations
Each gift party workers hand out is given with the word “Amma” on their lips and adorned with stickers of Jaya’s beaming face.
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If the myths surrounding the gods were proven false, then the gods themselves cease to exist don’t they. Goddesses are only as powerful as their magic is, woven into mythology by their followers. And if the feet of clay show, the only option is to shout out louder and cover it up.
The AIADMK’s goddess, the all-knowing, all seeing, ever benevolent Amma – the “Puratchi Thalaivi” (Revolutionary Leader), the “Thanga Thaarakai” (Golden Stellar), the “Tamizhar Kula Saamy” (Ancestral deity of the Tamils) – has stumbled. Her feet of clay have been bared for all to see. And that is cause for consternation amongst her followers.
Historians of Tamil politics point out that although the two Dravidian behemoths the AIADMK and the DMK are ideologically similar, they differ in one crucial aspect. The AIADMK is a party founded on a single person, a cult figure, worshipped and revered and lives laid down for. In 1972, the AIADMK was created by the singular charisma and force of a man called MG Ramachandran who broke away from the DMK, challenging political stalwart Karunanidhi and taking with him a large chunk of starry-eyed cadre. MGR was an actor, handsome and fair. He had in his hands the powerful cinema as a medium to convey his message to the masses. The masses in turn, worshipped him, cried with him, felt unutterable pain when he was lashed with whips and cheered him exultantly when he defeated the bad guys. MGR was transposed directly from the screen into their lives when he entered politics. He was the do-gooder, vanquisher of all evil, the one man they trusted implicitly. And when he died a premature death in 1987, many died with him, setting their bodies aflame.
When a doe-eyed Jayalalithaa took over the reins of the party, the cadre, consisting largely of MGR’s Rasigar Mandrams (fan clubs) did what they knew best. They transferred their affections for MGR towards her and Jaya became MGR’s political heir. Jaya though has, over the years, consciously shed the MGR tag and has subtly but surely managed to create a cult for and of herself.
In the AIADMK, loyalty and sycophancy is always rewarded, irrespective of merit. An O Panneerselvam is twice made chief minister because he is known to toe firmly the line drawn by the venerable Amma. Valarmathi had to walk on live coals in prayer for her “goddess” and she is rewarded with an MLA ticket and later, a Ministry. Karate expert Shihan Husseini made a bizarre show of crucifying himself for over six minutes in prayer for Amma. Who knows, he might be your next MLA candidate!
The cult called Amma proposes and disposes at will. For the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, almost all candidates were fresh, with no experience. Ministers are shuffled at will as are bureaucrats and the police top brass. Even now when she has been unseated thanks to a conviction in a disproportionate assets case, Amma continues to rule from her home – a fact admitted openly in the Legislative Assembly by Tamil Nadu chief minister OPS.
This carefully crafted cult of hers is in real danger of being exposed. A trial court in Karnataka has handed down a resounding guilty verdict in 2014 along with a four-year jail term and a Rs 100 crore fine. The goddess was forced to spend 21 days in a Bangalore jail. A wave of sympathy washed over the populace at the time. Now, it is business as usual.
AIADMK workers know that without their cult, they will cease to exist as a party. Without their goddess they are irrelevant. Without belief in her benevolence, people would not stand in supplication, awaiting her gifts of largesse. People will not vote if the cult turns out to be a common criminal, out on bail.
And that is why on the occasion of her 67th birthday, AIADMK workers are thronging the streets of Tamil Nadu in a frenzy, trying to tell their voters that it is all a conspiracy hatched against their goddess by “evil forces”. Each gift they hand out is given with the word “Amma” on their lips and adorned with stickers of Jaya’s beaming face. In every street rings out loud songs sung by their celestial filmi couple MGR and Jayalalithaa. Amma’s face smiles down from flags, banners, placards, pamphlets everywhere in the state.
The cult must survive. The feet of clay of the goddess must be covered with flowers and worshipped feverishly. For only in the deification of this convict lies her future political survival.