Is Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s directive to party workers, including senior ministers, not to carry their pictures on publicity posters a ploy to further consolidate her larger-than-life image or to subdue the dominance of sub-regional satraps?
Either way, posters with the mugshots of local leaders in varying sizes will be a thing of the past for the AIADMK in the state. Now on, it will only be the pictures of Jayalalithaa, MGR and the original Dravidian leaders such as Periyar and Annadurai that will greet people on the streets.
Probably in her version of “democratic centralisation,” what Jayalalithaa seeks to rebuild is the public face of the party in which only her image matters. Posters hailing leaders, even without an occasion or reason, has been a proxy technique for local leaders to establish their dominance in their localities.
It has been a very old practice for both the Dravidian parties as well as the Congress in the state. Other parties also do this, but to a much lower scale. Such posters are, in fact, an indication of not only a party’s demographic spread, but also the fiefdoms of local leaders. Since the main leaders are hailed, there has not been any curb on this practice of psychophancy in the state.
These posters are also symbols of turf-wars between the local leaders as well as leaders at the state level. For instance in the DMK, the poster-war is so common between the followers of Karunanidhi scions Stalin and Azhagiri. Although Chennai is Stalin’s fort, posters featuring Azhagiri find their way into some pockets in the city whenever there is a major party meet or speculation on inheritance of power. In Azhagiri’s fortress of Madurai, Stalin finds it difficult to get his images on party posters.
Jayalalithaa cracking the whip comes in the wake of the increasing tendency of AIADMK ministers pumping themselves up, with the support of their local leaders, at public events. This, according to reports, has fuelled factionalism in the party and sometimes even led to clashes. The practice has a cascading effect on leaders down the order leading to claims of supremacy within the party.
For whatever reasons, the AIADMK had to issue a communique in which clear rules had been laid out now: only the pictures of Jayalalithaa, MGR, Periyar and Anna. Other leaders can just be mentioned as names.
Jayalalithaa has all her eyes set on the 2014 parliamentary elections and wouldn’t want anything to come in her way. Local chieftains and their fiefdoms and dilution of her image are the last thing that she wants to deal with.
In the highly centralised AIADMK, in which Jayalalithaa has declared herself as the permanent general secretary, managing the political and personal interests of her ministers and other leaders, all the way down to the councils and wards, is a major challenge. Without a structure wherein the command and control is sufficiently decentralised, she has to mostly manage the party herself top-down.
For the same reasons, she has shuffled her cabinet seven times in a year; dropped many ministers, reinducted some of them; mixed and matched their portfolios and even banished some. The last to fall for her axe was one of the senior most leaders and the third most powerful cabinet minister KA Sengottaiyan.
Last month, she had to even convene a meeting of the councillors of the Chennai corporation to warn them with strong action if they didn’t stop meddling with the developmental work of the civic body. Reportedly, civic works had been seriously hampered by the interference of the councillors who wanted a share of the pie from the contractors. She even threatened them of dissolving the council and running the corporation directly with special officers if they didn’t mend their ways.
Although her deadline has passed, it is not clear what has become of her threat. The city’s civic conditions haven’t improved and are in fact deteriorating.
Jayalalithaa’s latest missive to her party workers, will be a welcome relief if it altogether discourages them from printing posters. The only incentive in printing such posters has been to promote themselves. With the opportunity gone, will they go slow?
Then, Jayalalithaa might have to warn them again for not adequately promoting the party and its leadership.
By the way, doesn't the AIADMK supremo’s latest step smack of Narendra Modi’s image management? Isn’t it only him and nothing but him for the BJP and the government in Gujarat?