news Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 05:30
On Monday, as AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa waited for a verdict in her favour, thousands of energetic supporters gathered outside her residence at Poes Garden. While the rest of Chennai found itself busy on a regular Monday morning, the others sweated it out, celebrating Amma’s victory. What is it that draws these people to their leaders? Is it loyalty, sycophancy or a combination of both? We spoke to some seeking answers.   “Jayalalithaa is in our blood. Everything we do and experience is only because of her,” says 52-year-old Anbazhagan, who set up a small workshift shop on the corner of Poes Garden on Monday morning, selling photos, frames , pens and flags – all “Amma” merchandise ahead of the positive verdict in her favour.   Anbazhagan and Lalithaa, his wife, hail from Chennai’s Porur, but claim that home for them is where ever Jayalalithaa goes. The couple literally depends on the AIADMK leader for their daily income, selling anything and everything related to Jayalalithaa at party meetings and events throughout the state.   “We go where she goes. Besides Chennai, we have been to Madurai, Erode, Vellore and Salem,” says Anbazhagan who has been in this business for 15 years.   “This is how we make our living. We have even married off three sons using money from this business,” says Lalitha.   Ask them more , and suddenly Lalitha breaks down describing their poor financial status. “All we want is Amma to see us here and help us out,” says Lalitha, sobbing.   There are many like Lalitha and Anbazhagan, who have shadowed the leader for years, but the leader may well be blissfully unaware of their existence.   What is it that you like about her? “She’s done so much for the poor. She gives a lot of benefits. She helps them out,” Lalitha says, listing out a number of upliftment programmes initiated by Jayalalithaa.   A small cloth is spread on a pavement and a few framed photos of Jayalalithaa and MGR adorn the edges. Throw in are a couple of smaller photos of Jayalalithaa and MGR in the centre along with a few AIADMK flags and the shop is complete.   “With what we earn on good days like these, it’s enough to feed us for atleast three more days,” says Anbazhagan. He and his wife took home around Rs 5000, which they say , they used to pay up loans. On regular days, when she makes an appearance, we earn Rs 1000, he says.   When asked how they get to know the chief minister’s whereabouts, they take out a newspaper. “We check this newspaper and depending on where she goes, we also pack our things and make a move with her,” he adds.   “Our lives will be fulfilled the day that we get to meet amma and she acknowledges our presence. If Amma knows that there are two people like us who exist, it is more than enough for us,” Lalitha says.   For a non-Tamil watching the events that unfolded on Monday, celebrations on the street that reached unbelievable levels of sycophancy would have seemed baffling. But for those in Tamil Nadu, such display of loyalty has become a part and parcel of life.   An impromptu acquittal party that showed no signs of ending, when asked what drew them to Jayalalithaa, supporters did not hold back. From fervent dances to deafening crackers and sudden shows of emotion, servility for their leader became the order of the day – though for myriad reasons.   Like one supporter admitted about such events, a few turn up out of respect and loyalty, some have their own interests at heart while others are collectively forced to come by local party leaders as a show of display of strength of their party from a particular area.   However, amongst all the adulation and fawning what stood out was a massive show of strength by the female population for their beloved Amma. Controversy has not lacked in Jayalalithaa’s life. But in Tamil Nadu, she is highly revered among the women for setting up an example of courage, resilience and refusal to back down – a fact made strong by the presence of a sizable crowd of women at Poes on Monday.     Jose Thomas and his wife, Anuradha   Jose Thomas, an AIADMK member from Pollachi, who owns a timber business back home claims to be the first to begin addressing Jayalalithaa as Amma, a nickname that is by now, her second name in politics. “I published banners addressing her as ‘Amma’ and stuck them across Ooty during the 1995 flower show. That’s when it picked up,” he alleges.   His wife, Anuradha, an AIADMK councillor from Pollachi, stands beside him, in a quiet dignified manner, a character starkly missing in the crowd gathered as they cheered and chanted as cameras zoomed in on them.     Old pictures of Jose Thomas meeting Jayalalithaa   “We were here when she was taken to jail. All we want to do is show our support for her,” she says. What makes you drop all your work and come to Poes Garden, we ask Anuradha. She says,” As a lady, I think it’s her boldness and her attitude like an iron lady. Look at all that she has endured being a single woman”.   Though many had their own interests in mind, Deepa (name changed), an Amma-loyalist never went to Poes Garden on Monday ahead of the verdict. But ask her about Jayalalithaa, and a smile lights up her face.   Mother of two children, Deepa, single-handed brought them up despite deep financial trouble and ostracism from her husband’s family. For her, Jayalalithaa is more than a party leader everyone fawns over.   “She is the reason I found the will to survive,” says Deepa, explaining about a time when she and her husband almost decided to end their lives over financial trouble.   “We even wrote suicide letters,” she says about a decision she and her husband took. But then she says she took a step back.   “When she a single woman, lost everything in her life – her jewellery, her watches, her property…everything was taken away from her and she was put in jail – why can’t I survive?,” says Deepa, about the year 1996 when Jayalalithaa was put in jail for a few weeks on corruption charges.   “Did she hide? She came back and fought. Being a woman, she has faced so much,” she says.   Deepa’s husband is an AIADMK party man ever since its inception. But she says, her family has gained no monetary income from it and her loyalty has no strings attached. “My children studied through my hard work after I made up my mind – if she(Jayalalithaa) didn’t admit failure and give in, then I can too,” she says.   In the past, it was a common custom for a lucky few seeking help to be called in and personally meet Jayalalithaa, as she promised them assistance. However, today, neither does Jayalalithaa meet low-rung party members nor does she meet people like Anbazhagan and Lalithaa.   Though her acquittal itself has raised a number of doubts, for supporters of Jayalalithaa, one thing was quite clear from the scenes of celebration and delirious dances outside at Poes Garden – the fervent hope of many to fall under her approving eyes and somehow gain favour as she probably watched the drama unfold from within the confines of her house.