DA case verdict: Is Jayalalithaa's true legacy methodical corruption or the welfare schemes?

It is a wonder why the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour, is conferred so late in the life of recipients that they are unable to even attend the investiture ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Bhimsen Joshi, the eminent classical singer, got it four years before his demise. The honour was conferred on Bismillah Khan five years before he passed away.

The slowness of the government in recognising the merit of the recipients should raise concern. However, there was no haste in the case of J Jayalalithaa. On 29 December, AIADMK had demanded that she be honoured. The party had also resolved to secure for her “the prestigious Nobel and Magsaysay awards for her welfare schemes”.

Jayalalithaa. File photo. PTI

Jayalalithaa. File photo. PTI

On the same day, Sasikala was chosen as Jayalalithaa’s successor. On 3 February, Vijila Sathyananth, an AIADMK member of the Rajya Sabha raised the demand during the zero hour. The Hindu reported her saying, “Amma cannot be replaced. She is the personification of love and compassion... [she] worked tirelessly till her last breath for the uplift of the poor. The ‘iron lady’ had brought about all-round development in Tamil Nadu.”

It could have been possible for the BJP-led government to have agreed to it, if not conferred for sheer political exigencies and gain allegiance of the AIADMK. It may have raised her status, but diminished the other eminent personalities. The award would have been belittled.

There is no doubt that the welfare schemes, including the Amma Canteens which served food at subsided rates, were launched by the same person who has been a votary of freebies. The schemes helped brand her well, using the prefix ‘Amma’ to almost each of them, including, for example bottled water. That was clever marketing by a smart politician. But not smart enough to avoid being caught by law.

Though the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa abated following her death, but the case saw three others convicted, the Supreme Court order which restored the trial court conviction explicitly noted Jayalalithaa’s “inextricable nexus” and “her role” in the amassing of disproportionate assets by Sasikala and the others. That, in effect, means her acquittal by the Karnataka High Court is erased.

That brings us to the question, what is the legacy that she leaves behind? One, of social welfare that she ensured in the state for which people are grateful, especially the lowest income strata; or two, of the methodical corruption? Justice Amitava Roy, in his supplement, provided the “pulpit touch” referred to the “all pervading pestilence of corruption” and its “octopoid stranglehold”.

That causes immense harm to “societal psyche” because the “perpetrators of this (corruption) malady have tightened their noose” around it. He saw “an asphyxiating snare of this escalating venality”. He even defines corruption as “insatiable avarice for self-aggrandizement by the unscrupulous, taking unfair advantage of power and authority” which is “backed by minatory loyalists”.

What Jayalalithaa won on one front as a ruler is what she frittered away, in the final analysis, by just what Justice Roy described. That there would be a memorial for her in the very place from where she ran the game of venality, is likely to be the irony of her life which her party may want to build. But then, in politics, venality is a key ingredient.

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Updated Date: Feb 15, 2017 13:55:52 IST

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