Jayalalithaa's coffin becomes a prop: O Panneerselvam camp takes Tamil Nadu politics to a new low

Will the decision to use a dummy coffin of Jayalalithaa with her body during campaign in the RK Nagar by-election, prove to be O Panneerselvam's Hershelle Gibbs moment? For those not familiar with matters of cricket, in the final playoff match between Australia and South Africa in the 1999 World Cup in England, Gibbs dropped Steve Waugh at a crucial juncture in the game. Waugh is then reported to have told Gibbs, "Hersh, you've just dropped the World Cup."

Subsequently, though Waugh clarified that he actually told Gibbs, "I hope you realise that you have just lost the game for your team", the "dropping the World Cup" line became part of cricketing folklore. And Australia did go on to win the World cup while South Africa bowed out in the semis.

Politicians as a tribe, aren't exactly known for being sensitive to anything but their own narrow self-interest. The Panneerselvam camp by using a dummy of their late leader inside a coffin, to ask for votes, has only reinforced that impression. Get into the details of the optics of the Jaya coffin and you realise it is worse. The attempt is to recreate her last journey from Rajaji Hall to her resting place by the Marina. The national flag has been used during a political party campaign. And the new election symbol - electric pole with two lights - has been perched strategically on Jayalalithaa's head to ensure maximum visibility and recognition.

O Panneerselvam's rally in Chennai with the Jayalalithaa in the coffin.

O Panneerselvam's rally in Chennai with the Jayalalithaa in the coffin.

Crass just acquired a synonym.

What is ironic is that this is a party that swears by Amma. After spending a lifetime prostrating before Jayalalithaa when she was alive and showcasing the flexibility of the spine as proof of loyalty, the same AIADMK leaders now seem to indicate that it is payback time. Not satisfied with using her pictures on posters, they have decided that she needs to canvass for them from inside a coffin.

Since 7 February, AIADMK leaders of different camps have not let Jayalalithaa rest in peace, leaving their carbon footprint at their samadhi. On that Tuesday night, it was Panneerselvam who rose like a phoenix from Amma's grave, in a reinvented political avatar. With the coffin act in Korukkupet area of RK Nagar, Panneerselvam has taken the samadhi closer home to Chennaites.

As the jeep carrying the coffin made its way through the lanes and bylanes of RK Nagar constituency, AIADMK leader Azhagu Thamilselvi tells the voters that Jayalalithaa has come demanding justice. It is an attempt to repackage the conspiracy theory that Team OPS has been belting out from day one. That Sasikala had a hand in Jayalalithaa's death and that others were prevented from meeting the former chief minister. The Panneerselvam camp obviously must have felt that Jayalalithaa's body would add the emotional quotient to the conspiracy pitch. The presence of former education minister K Pandiarajan atop the jeep means the coffin idea must have been cleared at the highest level in the Panneerselvam camp.

On the other side of the political divide, Team Sasikala has put out an old video of Jayalalithaa campaigning for TTV Dinakaran. Unlike Team OPS that is using a dead Jayalalithaa, Dinakaran is using a real Amma except that the part where she then said "vote for two leaves" has been poorly dubbed with a "Vote for the Hat".

During the Chennai floods, Jayalalithaa portrayed as Sivagami from Bahubali.

During the Chennai floods, Jayalalithaa portrayed as Sivagami from Baahubali.

It is not the first time AIADMK cadre has behaved so dumbly. During the December 2015 Chennai floods, her followers pasted on the city walls photoshopped photographs of Jayalalithaa as Baahubali's Sivagami, carrying an infant in her hand out of the swirling flood waters. At a time when the government was found wanting in providing flood relief, this was seen as bad taste.

The RK Nagar election is clearly the Amma of all by-elections because the result could well have a bearing on the future of the two AIADMKs besides making or marring the political career of Panneerselvam and Dinakaran. On Wednesday, Team OPS released a video that allegedly showed Dinakaran's cadre giving Rs 4000 to a family in return for its votes. It has also alleged that DMK is promising Rs 3000 to each voter. The worry in the OPS camp reportedly is whether money power will win the election.

But there also seems to be a subtle attempt to get the poll countermanded, on grounds that the process of a fair election is being vitiated. While it is not clear which of the camps is more nervous and would stand to gain from a no show, it is obvious that voters are keeping their cards and votes close to their chest and leaving the candidates very worried.

From an ethical point of view, the coffin spectacle in Chennai has reduced politics in Tamil Nadu to a new low. As far as Panneerselvam is concerned, he can only hope that he has not shot himself in the foot with this mindless and insensitive blunder.

Updated Date: Apr 07, 2017 08:20 AM

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