Well-known social activist Medha Patkar and the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), and her colleagues Madhuresh Kumar, Gabriele Dietrich, Geetha Ramakrishnan, Arul, Rajendra Ravi, and Suniti SR, have described Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha, who died December 5, as a symbol of populist and welfarist politics, who has left behind a vacuum In Tamil Nadu politics. They say, her administrative ability will be remembered, but not corruption charges against her. Text of their statement:
Jayalalitha Amma was a symbol of ‘Popular Politics’. She was a great administrator as we witnessed her capacity during the post Tsunami relief and rehabilitation work.
She was popular, on one hand, due to her welfarism however, her more influential leadership was due to her intense relationship with the people. She was a unique personality that would stand up in the “gallery” and yet would look down to the downtrodden. She was capable of turning her own independent decisions, whether on the farmers’ issues on the land acquisition, Cauvery delta affected by upstream dam or ONGC Project in Tanjavur, carrying forward her own politics but also giving some relief to the common people. She also opposed strongly the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, changes in Food Security Act, Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, elevated express way, displacing thousands of slum dwellers to far off places causing deprivation of livelihoods and education, methane project, GAIL project, implementation of ecologically devastating Setu Samundran Project etc.
She demanded retrieval of “Katcha Theevu” and for declaration of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa as war criminal and punishment in the International Court of Justice. She was firm on relief and rehabilitation but was not showing any depth on development issues. Even when she was with NDA, she had her own space within and much later she became an occupier of widest possible political space in Tamil Nadu and through it at the national level.
She was not as much sensitive as she should have been to insecure workers and atrocities against Dalits, yet she had her own ways to control casteism. She still scored marks over other politicians by carrying forward welfare boards and welfare funds for the same. She had lost her votes in one election on not responding to organized workers, undermining social welfare boards by transferring responsibility to revenue departments which encouraged huge corruption and disconnection with a lot of genuine unions, responded very late to demands of many of closing down the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) shops, which could have been considered her position on disparity between her own understanding about certain demands and priorities.
One wished she had a different position on the Koodankulam nuclear power plant issue but unfortunately like every other politician she saw nuclear energy as necessary development and didn’t support the popular demand for its cancellation. She no doubt cancelled the plans to shift her administrative offices to Marina Beach, after peoples’ resistance however she changed her mind, after initially supporting the fish workers, and slum dwellers with whom the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) allies have been working since long.
She could not get the credit of pro-equity politician as her own property indicates. Her support to associates like Shashikala and expensive events as well as land grabs could not be justifiable at all. How she got out of the cases on corruption against her and continued to be in the hearts of Tamil people is a mystery, no doubt. Jayalalitha’s ways of remaining in the position of inaccessible yet the most popular leader certainly is her success in the today’s politics with not just dramatics but also popular matrix which she created and even changed.
To say that it’s a great vacuum in the electoral politics is created with her demise is true about Tamilnadu where there is no opposition, either clean or caring the people that could fill it. However emergence of Amma through resorting to distribution of consumer goods, the freebies, is something that has started a new era in the vote bank mongering which was and needed to be questioned.
Whether or not AIADMK would survive without her charismatic personality and welfarist politics with relations unbound, remains to be seen. There is no doubt that neither DMK nor NDA or UDA can evolve as an alternative to AIADMK under Jayalalitha’s powerful heritage.
The people of Tamil Nadu, no doubt, are shocked with the valuation of her property as well as her personal belongings which was not easily denounced as a result of massive corruption, for whatever reason. However they are the ones who would also miss her administrative ability and reach to the poor, and her responses to the issues raised and taken to peak by the people’s organizations in Tamil Nadu.
Let us bid farewell for Amma, empathizing with her supporters in tears and shatters… and join others in analyzing her popularity and her politics. May her soul rest in peace…