And why do the fighting factions of the AIADMK continue to claim her legacy despite the taint of corruption?

I-T raids and AIADMK infighting Jayalalithaas political capital sinking PTI File photo
news Politics Monday, November 20, 2017 - 17:49

Nearly a year has passed since former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s demise. Her death triggered infighting within the ruling party, splitting the AIADMK into two, and brought political turmoil to the state. Like her mentor and late CM MG Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa refused to nominate a political heir, allowing the party and as a result the state, to fall into political disarray.

But Jayalalithaa’s death has also brought under the spotlight the corruption that was allowed to take place during her tenure as Chief Minister. The Income Tax raids on 188 places across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Puducherry targeting her close-aide VK Sasikala’s family and associates, bears testimony to the sheer size of the empire that was built over the years. 

With I-T officials saving the final assault for Friday night when they raided her Poes Garden residence in Chennai, has the Iron Lady’s political currency taken a beating?

Has Jayalalithaa’s sheen worn off?

Though soon after her death there was a wave of anger only against Sasikala and her family, there seems to be a change in public sentiment.

Moreover, the last 11 months have seen the AIADMK party disintegrating and fighting in the open, rather than working on government schemes started by Jayalalithaa and whip up a sense of nostalgia among people.

“Jayalalithaa is no longer currency. Her legacy is corruption – the Supreme Court has upheld her conviction in the Disproportionate Assets case,” observes senior journalist S Murari.

But Murari argues that Jayalalithaa’s legacy of corruption is not anything new.

“In 2001, she was convicted (in the TANSI case) and was disqualified from contesting. Despite this, she filed nomination papers to contest, which were duly rejected. But she led the AIADMK to victory because the other parties compromised on corruption and due to alliance arithmetic,” he says.

“She lost the 1996 election as well because of corruption,” adds Murari.

He says, “People knew all along she was corrupt. But the question became whose corruption is bigger – Karunanidhi’s or Jayalalithaa’s. The cynical answer is that everyone is corrupt.”

Echoing Murari’s words, senior journalist Bhagwan Singh says, “Talk to the common man, the man on the street. They will tell you that in spite of her being literate, cultured, and well-educated, everyone is talking about Jayalalithaa’s corruption. The sheen has worn off, it’s been blown off by the typhoon of I-T raids.”

Unlike her mentor MGR who still draws votes for the AIADMK, Bhagwan wonders if Jayalalithaa’s legacy is valid tender for the people.

“MGR was a philanthropist. He helped so many people, and came up with pro-poor, pro-welfare schemes. This was because he himself came from a hungry childhood. Yes, he was corrupt in his second term it was but not for himself. Jayalalithaa was for corrupt for herself,” points out Bhagwan.

Jayalalithaa, he says, is being propped up by AIADMK leaders. “You can see her picture in every car, at public functions, cabinet meetings... During the launch of welfare schemes, they talk about Jayalalitha’s ‘aatchi’ (reign in Tamil) and a continuation of her dreams. Her picture is there even though she has been convicted by the Supreme Court. They are trying to brainwash the public. You keep telling a lie until it becomes a truth – this is psychological warfare,” says Bhagwan Singh.

So why then do the fighting factions of the AIADMK continue to claim her legacy despite the taint of corruption?

Both Murari and Bhagwan are on the same page on this. “They are zeroes without Jayalalithaa. They are nobodies. They need this prop, a ladder,” argues Bhagwan.

And as the two AIADMK camps continue to fight, with each side claiming to be Jayalalithaa’s rightful political heir, the BJP is preparing the ground for elections, notes Murari. 

He says, “The BJP’s plan is to rid AIADMK of the Sasikala clan. They want the AIADMK vote bank. And once the AIADMK gets the party symbol, the BJP plans to ride on the MGR formula. That is in the Assembly election, the regional party will be allowed two-third of the seats, while the national party will get one-third. The same formula is used vice versa in the Parliamentary elections.”

Whether the BJP will indeed have the last laugh remains to be seen. But for now, less than a year after her death, Jayalalithaa’s political capital appears to be sinking, much like the AIADMK ship she left behind. 

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