Jayalalithaa was pricked with pins at MGR’s funeral, that steeled her resolve to claim his mantle
'I was sent to Chennai (Madras then) in August 1992. Subsequent to that, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa won us over with her speech in the National Integration Council'
It is a strange coincidence that exactly 15 years ago, December 6, 1992, played a critical role in defining the relationship between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Dr J Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK.
In the National Integration Council (NIC) held immediately after the Babri mosque demolition in Ayodhya, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa strongly argued in favour of closing the “ayodhya chapter forever” for the larger good of the country. She cautioned political parties against pursuing “minorityism” for votes.
This was at complete variance with the rest of the political class that declared the BJP and Sangh Parivar as political pariahs after December 6, 1992. The then BJP ideologue, KN Govindacharya, was in-charge of Tamil Nadu for the party and posted in Chennai (then Madras) after his run-in with the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi.
In Jayaa’s NIC speech Govindacharya saw it a unique opportunity to build a lasting relationship with a Dravidian party in Tamil Nadu, a state inaccessible to the Hindutva forces. He developed good equations with Jayalalithaa and laid the foundation for the BJP leadership to establish a toehold, however minor, in Tamil Nadu politics.
Here is a tribute to Jayalalithaa by Govindacharya who reminisces his relationship with the maverick lady of Poes Garden exclusively with Firstpost (as told to Ajay Singh):
“Yes I was sent to Chennai in August 1992. Subsequent to that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Dr J Jayalalithaa won us over with her speech in the National Integration Council (NIC). After the demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992, Jayalalithaa cautioned the gathering of the Prime Minister, central ministers, chief ministers and top bureaucrats against pursuing ‘minorityism’. She said in no uncertain terms that the Babri mosque demolition should be treated as a closed chapter for the greater good of the nation. That was totally at variance with all other non-BJP political party leaders who were baying for the Sangh Parivar’s blood. Jayalalitha’s position was not dissimilar to the stance of the Parivar.
This was the occasion that drew the AIADMK closer to the BJP. I was fortunate to have two friends who were close to Jayalalithaa. Journalist Cho Ramaswamy and Ramagopalan, founder of the Hindu Munnani party, were instrumental in getting me in touch with Jayalalithaa. My first meeting with her was quite interesting. I talked to her about personal issues not politics. For instance, we made small conversation about who cooks her food and how difficult it becomes to maintain personal life in the middle of high octane public life.
My conversation opened her up and she came across as quite soft and malleable woman of substance. One cannot understand Jaylalithaa unless one understands the social and cultural milieu of the state. She was a protégé of great actor and politician MG Ramachandran. In reel life, she played wife to MGR though in real life the actor’s wife was Janaki. MGR was from Kerala but dominated Tamil Nadu’s cultural and political life like a colossus. And the reason for his acceptability is not far to seek.
In his career in reel life, MGR never played the role of a drunkard. He was always the a social underdog who stood for the causes of the poor, down-trodden and women. In Tamil Nadu’s social and political life, cinema played a great role in defining politics. Before MGR, his mentor CN Annadurai also used cinema to weave a powerful political narrative about Dravidian politics, as did his contemporary friend-turned-political-foe M Karunanidhi of the DMK. Even Anna’s mentor Periyar was quite conversant with stage and cinema and used it as a powerful tool for communication.
But there is a world of difference between Hindi cinema and Tamil cinema. Unlike Hindi cinema where actors are not seen as a moral compass for society and politics, in South India actors play a critical role in regulating society’s ethics and morality. They are seen as role models and worshipped with their all shortcomings.
This is the reason why the public appearance of a bald-pated Rajnikanth does not diminish his adulation – both in real life and reel – whereas an Amitabh Bachchan or a Bollywood hero dare not appear in public in an avatar different from their screen image.
There is another reason for this deep bond between Tamil movies, culture and politics; talkies and temples. All over the state, temples and talkies are the geographical reference points for searching or identifying places. Such is the overweening influence of cinema on the social life of the state that it is imaginable to think of Tami Nadu without its celluloid stars.
It is in this context that the emergence of Jayalalithaa becomes very important. After MGR’s death, she was pushed around by her mentor’s family members and some of them even pricked her with safety pins to drive her away from the venue where MGR’s body was placed. But she refused to budge. I was told by a close friend of hers that she was quite pained by the manner in which she was treated by MGR’s family members when she tried to get on to the vehicle carrying his body.
All this steeled up her resolve to fight back to claim the legacy of her mentor. And people of the state accepted her as the true inheritor though she was, just like her mentor MGR, neither a Dravidian nor a native of Tamil Nadu. She was a Vaishnavite Iyengar Brahmin from Karnataka. But she had the trust of the people. Indeed Dr J Jayalalithaa was described as extra-ordinary leader not without reason.
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