Jayalalithaa to Modi the Prime Minister. convince with the Terminator line: I’ll be back.
If Indian politics is a theatre, Tamil Nadu is a multiplex. Where cigarette flicks and dark glasses are the perennial symbols of style and substance, sycophancy does a tandava over psephology.
Jayalalithaa is the victor who lost; the queen without the crown. Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa created history when her party AIADMK won 37 of the 39 seats in the state—the biggest tally for any party so far in Tamil Nadu. Yet, she couldn’t get anywhere near power at the Centre when BJP would be sharing it with some parties that got just a couple of seats, maybe just one.
Elections offer takeaways for winner and losers, and here are a couple for Jayalalithaa: Strategic compromise is sometimes better than a Pyrrhic victory. Wishful thinking of a prospective post-poll ally under performing may be as dangerous as underestimating a rival.
The AIADMK prima donna has left none in doubt over her ability to win on her own, especially when there is a multi-cornered contest. But had she tied up with the BJP before the polls, she would have ended up having a handful of Union ministers, though with a lesser number of MPs.
Some may contest this on the premise that a Jayalalaithaa-Modi alliance would have triggered a reconfiguration of political equations in Tamil Nadu; that the DMK might have gone with the Congress; that the Left and the smaller parties would have joined such a coalition sensing anti-right polarisation.
Having come down to Chennai for a film audio launch a fortnight ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. The secretariat grapevine had it that the two discussed how they shared two passions—movies and politics. And then an insider quipped that they also shared, as they were parting, a favourite line: I’ll be back.
Jayalalithaa has said that, silently, every time she was kicked out of places she wanted to be—first the gun carriage of her hero MGR on the Christmas day o f 1987, and later while being dragged out of Poes Garden into a waiting police van on December 7, 1996. On Saturday, before stepping into the Parappana Agrahara prison in Bangalore to hear the verdict in the disproportionate assets case a little before 11am, J Jayalalithaa is said to have told her driver that she would be back around 12.30pm to return to Chennai. That was not to be, but it showed the woman’s guts.
Some call it temerity, but it was this quality that helped Jayalalaithaa surmount several adversities, personal and political, to bounce back to relevance—and power. If her resurrections are anything to go by, Jayalalaithaa is a phoenix who has had another fall.
Much before her entry into films and politics, Jayalalithaa knew life is not a bed of roses. An above-average student of Church Park School, Jayalalithaa had to let go of her dreams of higher studies and get into films—a career her mother had chosen. From movies, her hero MGR took her to the world of politics, and she did not protest.
As the AIADMK propaganda secretary in 1983 and a Rajya Sabha member from 1984, Jayalalithaa performed and grew under MGR’s shadow. The first big challenge to her political career came with the death of MGR in 1987. She was kicked out of her mentor’s gun carriage, but she never let go of the legacy. After the party split and MGR’s widow Janaki Ramachandran walked away with the priced ‘two leaves’ symbol, Jayalalithaa was cunning enough to strike a compromise, get the party symbol back and ease Janaki out.
Thereafter her leadership in the party was never questioned, but politics wasn’t a cakewalk. In 1989, a brutal majority of DMK manhandled her in Assembly. She left the floor of the house with dishevelled hair, Kannagi-like, vowing to return to the Assembly only as the chief minister. She did just that two years later, but when power got into her head, ostentation became a by-product during 1991-96. Saturday’s sentence is the comeuppance of that regime.
Jayalalithaa has fought and won a dozen cases in the last 18 years, but this one – given the legal and political implications – may prove to be the toughest of crises the AIADMK prima donna has faced. When the last time she had to relinquish the chief minister’s post, in 2001, she had the luxury of having just come to power. This time, if she is unable to get reprieve from a higher court, she would have to face an election without being the chief ministerial candidate. That will be the first time the AIADMK goes to polls with a chief ministerial candidate who is not the party leader. Will the voters play ball?
Jayalalithaa will try to convince them with the Terminator line: I’ll be back.