“I have taken a rebirth,” wrote Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, in a statement issued from Apollo Hospital, Chennai on 13 November. This was the first such message from the ailing leader since she was suddenly hospitalised on 22 September. In her statement, Jaya went on to thank the people and her party cadre for their prayers that have helped her regain her health. She also exhorted voters of Aravakurichi, Thanjavur and Thirupparankundram constituencies to vote for the ruling All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the upcoming by-elections.
Political hawks in the state were puzzled by this statement. Uncharacteristically, there was no mention of the demonetisation announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in her statement. “She is someone who will take a stand on such issues,” said sources in the know. “She will either support the move or condemn it. For her to have not referred to such a big development can only mean that she has not been informed about this particular development and has been kept in the loop only about the by-polls,” he said.
AIADMK leaders and ministers too have remained silent on the issue. When questioned about this silence, a senior party leader said, “Watch Jaya TV, you will know the party’s stand on the issue.” He went on to elaborate that the channel was highlighting the “plight of the common man” and the “sufferings of the poor, the rickshaw drivers, the daily wage labourers” and that this was the line taken by the party.
“There is nothing to comment on this move by the Centre,” said the senior AIADMK leader, “The intention behind it is good but the government needs to protect the poor from hardships. Those people who actually hold the bulk of the black money need to be targeted and we are only saying the government needs to target the right people.”
The Opposition in the state too has remained neutral on the issue of demonetisation. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M Karunanidhi stated on 9 November that the party welcomed the move but that the poor would suffer during implementation of the same. “Since it is being said that the move is to eliminate black money, we welcome it. But rather than the rich, only the ordinary, middle and poor people are affected,” he said.
Political commentators say that no party can actually take a firm stand on this move by the Centre, as they all run on black money. “All parties have black money,” said Aazhi Senthilnathan, political analyst, adding, “So any opposition or support for the move is only political in nature. This is a difficult situation. The AIADMK is silent only because Jaya is unwell. The DMK too has not said anything concrete. All parties think that if they oppose this move, that too might go against them. So everyone can only take a safe line on this issue. They can only say the common man is affected. Neither the DMK nor the AIADMK has any locus standi to criticise or condemn the Centre on this issue.”
On the issue of Jaya’s unusual silence on the move, Senthilnathan pointed out that the lack of information over her health is a cause of confusion within the party. “We have no idea about whether Jaya is in a condition to speak even,” he said. “Even when she was in good health, party leaders and ministers would only do what Amma (Jaya’s moniker) told them to do. Now she is unwell and not communicating with anyone in the party. The party will not do anything without Amma’s say so. So we cannot expect them to say anything openly now,” he added.
Jayalalithaa’s clear stand on national issues is well known.
In the past, she has firmly opposed the imposition of the GST, while even the BJP’s arch rival, the Congress, voted in favour of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. AIADMK members in fact walked out of the House before the vote on GST could take place. She has also stridently opposed many decisions of the previous UPA government, such as the NCTC (National Counter-Terrorism Centre) in 2012, joining hands with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. She was also the only politician in Tamil Nadu to condemn the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) before the war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009.
The author tweets @sandhyaravishan