Jayalalithaa's 'political heirs' do not live up to former chief minister's legacy

On 3 April, the candidate for the Sasikala faction of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), TTV Dhinakaran, was scheduled to start his campaign at Hari Narayanapuram in RK Nagar constituency at 4 pm.

Dhinakaran was yet to arrive by 5 pm and a traffic jam had set in for over a kilometer in the congested narrow lane where the preparations had been made. A stage erected near the Perumal temple had covered half the road, forcing vehicles to go single file. AIADMK party workers, along with Health Minister Vijay Bhaskar, desperately attempted to regulate the jammed traffic.

 Jayalalithaas political heirs do not live up to former chief ministers legacy

TTV Dinakaran. Facebook

In the meanwhile, a show began onstage. Four dancers – two men and two young women, who looked to be in their late teens – wearing tribal costumes, in short skirts, began to dance to the beat of drums and trumpets. An AIADMK worker, wearing a scarf with the party colours as well as a hat – the election symbol for TTV Dhinakaran – clambered up on stage and rather lasciviously began to dance around the young women.

Emboldened by the whistles and claps from the audience, this man began to edge closer to the dancers and physically harassed them, pushing them, even as the male dancers attempted to put themselves between the harasser and the young women. Still the whistles and claps continued from the crowd of AIADMK cadre watching from below.

This reporter asked an organiser whether such harassment of young girls would have been allowed had ‘Amma’ (Jayalalithaa’s moniker) been alive. Jolted into action, the AIADMK worker was quickly called off stage and the organiser attempted a feeble apology to this reporter. His excuse – “That man is a ‘public’. He is not a party man,” he said. No explanations of course about why the party men were hooting and encouraging such behaviour.

Such a spectacle would have been unthinkable during late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s time. At public meetings and rallies held by Jayalalithaa, women were always given special treatment and extra protection. The consequences of any woman being harassed at Jaya’s events would be severe – heads would roll and police officers would be shunted out. Jaya, for all her faults, was a stickler for women’s rights and safety of women in public spaces.

Not so, it appears, the claimants to her legacy. Whether it is former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran or J Deepa, Jayalalithaa’s niece.

“Those who are claiming to be heirs of Jayalalithaa – none of them have any of the qualities or virtues that she possessed,” said C Lakshmanan, political analyst and Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies. “One – she was independent. Two – she rose to the topmost level by virtue of her hard work and struggle. These qualities do not come in one day or in one stroke, they have to be cultivated over a long period of time with a lot of experience. There is no one with such leadership qualities in the AIADMK now,” he said.

Another virtue that Jayalalithaa possessed which is lacking in all claimants to her legacy is punctuality. Being a firm believer in astrology and “nalla neram” (auspicious time), Jaya was punctual to a fault and her events and rallies were always well organised. If TTV Dhinakaran turns up at least an hour and a half late for scheduled events, O Panneerselvam and his team invite the media to press meets that often never take place and J Deepa is consistently at least four hours late to her own campaigns.

Campaigns too are conducted largely from atop jeeps, autorickshaws and on stages, rather than the candidates interacting with the people and speaking to them. This, while very similar to Jayalalithaa’s style of campaigns, is a tad hard for voters to digest, considering that the current set of candidates lack the charisma or political acumen of the late leader.

Political analysts blame Jayalalithaa and her style of functioning for the lack of professionalism and sensitivity to people’s issues amongst her self-declared ‘political heirs’. “The number one culprit is Jayalalithaa,” said political analyst Aazhi Senthilnathan. “She did not build the party as a responsible leader. It was only her and no one else. Only after Jaya died, all the ministers are speaking to the media, they are holding discussions. The AIADMK under Jaya has been an autocratic party. Everyone speaks about sycophancy within the AIADMK but the issue of autocracy within the party has been much worse. They (the second rung leaders) do not know how to handle themselves and they do not know how to handle people – they will handle them roughly. The Congress and the DMK, on the other hand, will know how to deal with people. AIADMK members do not know how to handle them,” he said.

Lakshmanan agrees that the lack of a succession plan by Jayalalithaa has ensured that there are too many claimants to the top post and especially from those with too little experience, leading to the public being put to inconveniences and women being harassed. “When the master dies, there are many followers who become aspirants to the master’s position. But they do not have the leadership qualities or experience in party and politicking of the master. None of the aspirants – Sasikala, O Panneerselvam, Dhinakaran, Deepa – none of them have the qualities of Jayalalithaa,” he said.

As campaigns turn desperate and money distribution becomes rampant, a nervous Election Commission is fanning out across RK Nagar to try and curb bribing of voters. But if there is one thing both Dravidian parties are good at, it is just this – how to map a constituency and collude with voters to buy votes. The date 17 April is crucial, especially for the many claimants to Amma’s legacy – for RK Nagar will decide who they believe the true successor is.

Updated Date: Apr 06, 2017 18:31:58 IST