Tamil Nadu - the pressure of the South on New Delhi
As the power of the states is gaining more importance in Indian
politics, and is steadily challenging the position of New Delhi as the
hub of policy formulation, with new emphasis on the federal nature of
the Indian State, last week we looked at the role of West Bengal, where
the Trinamool Congress, led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is
bringing pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leader
Sonia Gandhi, as well as pushing the interests of West Bengal to the
fore in the new politics of India.
It is significant that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began
her recent visit to India from West Bengal, and also that this visit saw
some changes in Mamata Banerjee’s policies, especially in her bending
towards the opportunities for Foreign Direct Investment from the USA in
the retail sector, while she was strongly against such moves when
earlier proposed by New Delhi. It is also clear that Mamata Banerjee is
keen to ensure that New Delhi pays much more attention to the thinking
in West Bengal on relations with Bangladesh, whether it is about illegal
immigrants or the sharing of river waters.
The other major pull in Indian politics comes from the Southern state
of Tamil Nadu, where the Chief Minister is Jayalalitha Jayaram, who
moved into politics from the cinema, and has shown herself as one who is
adept at playing very strong roles in politics, as she was in the Tamil
cinema, in a political career that is marked by machinations and
considerable allegations of corruption.
Popular film stars
Unlike Mamata Banerjee who is known for her simple lifestyle, seen
especially in her clothes and where she lives, Jayalalitha is better
known for extravagance in personal life, as well as in politics.
The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is the leader of the All India Anna
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
Born in February 1948, she is known to have been a good student, who
gave up a promising educational career for the call of the cinema, under
the guidance of her mother also a cinema star.
Her successes in cinema saw her winning the National Film Award for
Best Feature Film in 1973, and three Filmfare Awards for Best Actress in
Tamil and Telugu films. Her popularity on screen had a major influence
in her move into politics, at a time when popular film stars such as MG
Ramachandran (MGR) were already making waves in South Indian politics.
MGR, who was Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu since 1977, is said to have
introduced Jayalalitha to politics, a claim she very strongly denies.
There is no doubt that she was heavily influenced by this Dravidian film
star and political leader (who was born in Sri Lanka).
In 1982, she joined the AIADMK, founded by Ramachandran. She made her
maiden public speech 'Pennin Perumai' (the Pride of Women) at the
political conference of the AIADMK that year. In 1983, she became
Propaganda Secretary for the party and was also selected as AIADMK
candidate in the by-election for the Tiruchendur Assembly constituency.
Ramachandran wanted her to be a member of the Rajya Sabha because of
her fluency in English, and was elected to the Indian Upper House in
1984. Success in her role as Propaganda Secretary of the AIADMK saw the
beginnings of her rift with MGR, and the building of her own image
within the party and the Tamil public.
It is reported that in 1984, when MGR was incapacitated with a
stroke, Jayalalitha attempted to take over the office of Chief Minister,
which move was thwarted, resulting in her removal from the position of
deputy leader of the AIADMK. When MGR died in 1988, the AIADMK split
into two factions, one section supporting his widow, Janaki Ramachandran,
and the other supporting Jayalalitha, who claimed to be MGR’s political
Playing a bigger role in politics than the cinema, in 1989 she was
elected to the Tamil Nadu State Assembly, leading a faction of the
AIADMK which won 27 seats, and saw her elected the first women Leader of
the Opposition in the State Assembly.
Youngest chief minister
In 1991, following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi just days before
the elections, her alliance with the Indian National Congress enabled
her to ride the wave of sympathy that gave the coalition victory.
Re-elected to the assembly, she became the first elected female Chief
Minister and the youngest ever chief minister of Tamil Nadu, serving the
full tenure from June 24, 1991 to May 12, 1996.
The AIADMK was soon reunited under Jayalalitha.
It is noteworthy that the wave of sympathy that brought Jayalalitha
to the position of Chief Minister was that caused by the assassination
of Rajiv Gandhi, by the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist and
terrorist organization, and Jayalalitha was for sometime a strong critic
of the LTTE and its separatist aims.
The Jayalalitha-led AIADMK lost power in the 1996 elections, when it
won 4 of the 168 seats that they contested, with Jayalalitha herself
defeated by the DMK candidate. The outcome has been attributed to an
anti-incumbency sentiment, as well as several allegations of corruption
and malfeasance against her and her ministers.
A highlight was criticism of a lavish wedding for her foster son, V.
The wedding event, in which Sudhakaran married a granddaughter of the
Tamil film actor Shivaji Ganeshan, was held on September 7, 1995 at
Chennai and was viewed on large screens by over 150,000 people. The
event holds two Guinness World Records: one is for the most guests at a
wedding and the other is for being the largest wedding banquet.
Subsequently, in November 2011, Jayalalitha told a special court that
the entire Rs. 6 crore expenses associated with the wedding were paid by
the family of the bride.
Corruption and nepotism
The machinations of politics remained an aspect of Jayalalitha’s
activity, with the rivalry between her and the DMK leader Karunanidhi,
exposing the opportunism of the Tamil political leaders, Jayalalitha was
barred from standing as a candidate in the 2001 elections because she
had been found guilty of criminal offences, including allegedly
obtaining property belonging to a state-operated agency called TANSI.
Although she appealed to the Supreme Court, having being sentenced to
five years' imprisonment, the matter had not been resolved at the time
of the elections.
Despite this, the AIADMK won a majority and she was installed as
Chief Minister as a non-elected member of the state assembly on May 14,
Her appointment was legally voided in September 2001 when the Supreme
Court ruled that she could not hold it whilst convicted of criminal
O. Paneerselvam, a minister in her party, was subsequently installed
as the Chief Minister.
However, media and other reports at the time were strong on
allegations that his government was purported to have been micro-managed
Her main rival in politics was the DMK leader Karunanidhi who held
sway as Chief Minister of Tail Nadu till 2011, who was himself tainted
with considerable reports of corruption and nepotism. This was the time
that saw Karunanidhi begin his more public support for the LTTE in Sri
Lanka and sought to bring pressure on New Delhi to move against Sri
Lanka on the issue of the rights of Sri Lanka Tamils. New Delhi was able
to thwart these pressures, and was in fact supportive of Sri Lanka’s
operations to defeat the LTTE, which took place on this day three years
But April 2011 saw the AIADMK as part of a 13-party alliance win the
Tamil Nadu Assembly elections again, and Jayalalitha was sworn in as the
chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the third time on May 16, 2011.
The in-fighting and machinations continued within the AIADMK, with
Jayalalitha expelling her long time close aide Sasikala Natarajan and 13
others from the AIADMK. The matter was resolved later when Natarajan was
reinstated as a party member after issuing a written apology, about
alleged conspiracy against Jayalalitha.
As Chief Minister today, Jayalalitha is pushing forward on a policy
of appeasing extremist Tamil politics in South India, especially to
overcome the challenge of the DMK and also because she sees in this a
means of bringing increased pressure on New Delhi, which has exposed the
weakness of its ruling coalition, of which the AIADKM is also a member.
Jayalalitha today sees the opportunism of Tamil politics as a means of
pushing New Delhi into giving more concessions to Tamil Nadu, and the
possibility of being a more important player in Indian politics, with
the new importance of the federal aspect of the Indian constitution
emerging to shape policy in India, both in matters of internal policy
and relations with her neighbours.
It is hardly a secret that Tamil Nadu the pressure played a role as
important as that from the USA in New Delhi’s decision to vote against
Sri Lanka at the UNHRC move in March this year; which was explained by
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as ‘coalition compulsions’.
What are emerging are not only the compulsions of a coalition, but
the compulsions of corruption and sectarian politics too, and the new
moods of the states demanding more say in the policies of New Delhi.
It is a situation where the actress in Jayalalitha can play a very
strong role given the growing weakness of the Congress Party and BJP,
and the emergence of powerful sectarian parties with state-led agendas
in many states of India.