Chennai super queen is back
Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister, has proven yet again that she can rise from the ashes like a phoenix. The AIADMK chief has seen many ups and downs in her political career. After the actor-turned-politician MG Ramachandran brought her into politics in 1982, she faced numerous stumbling blocks. After an unfortunate sequence of events, MG Ramachandran had soon stripped Jayalalithaa of her position as party propaganda secretary and made her persona-non grata within the party in 1986. After MGR’s death, she fought for his legacy and took over the AIADMK from his wife Janaki Ramachandran. She soon became Tamil Nadu chief minister in 1991. However, Jayalalithaa faced yet another period of political uncertainty in 1996 when she was charged on several counts of corruption. She soon bounced back in 2001 and ruled for a full five-year term. Although her party lost the 2006 Tamil Nadu assembly elections, the AIADMK came back in 2011 with a massive mandate. The crowning glory was her party’s stupendous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, where it won 37 of the 39 seats.
In addition, Jayalalithaa had to step down twice as chief minister in her long political career. The first was in 2001 when she was unseated. However, she soon came back within months when the Supreme Court cleared her in the Tansi land deal case. The second time was last year when the AIADMK chief had to step down after she was convicted by a lower court in the disproportionate assets case. A triumphant Jayalalithaa will take over as Tamil Nadu chief minister this weekend once again after her recent acquittal. The Karnataka High Court’s decision to acquit Jayalalithaa has changed the political climate in Tamil Nadu and the rest of India. She just might become one of the most powerful chief ministers around.
Jayalalithaa might come back to power in 2016 if she does not commit any mistakes of the past. She had already begun her campaign with a clever statement after her acquittal. The other important thing that the AIADMK chief has to make sure is that the opposition led by the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) is weakened. The DMK chief Karunanidhi has to now contend with a more powerful Jayalalitha. Certain DMK leaders like his daughter Kanimozhi and A Raja are facing corruption charges on the 2G spectrum case. His nephew Dayanidhi Maran is also under the cloud of a corruption case. Other political parties in the State like the PMK, MDMK and DMDK are not in the pink of health. In addition, the BJP has never been a force in Tamil Nadu and the Congress occupies a minimal amount space in State politics.
More importantly, Jayalalithaa will try to assert herself in national politics with 37 AIADMK MPs in the Lok Sabha and 11 Rajya Sabha parliamentarians. Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot ignore the AIADMK in his scheme of things. Under his concept of cooperative federalism, Modi is trying to garner the support of all major regional political parties. The AIADMK chief, who is reportedly on good terms with the prime minister, will definitely acquire a better profile. For instance, Modi’s Sri Lanka policy has to take into account the concerns expressed by the Jayalalithaa-led government. This is true of the ethnic Tamil issue, where the new Sri Lankan government is trying to make certain moves. Jayalalithaa has also been insisting on the Katchateevu issue, which was ceded to Sri Lanka by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Another persisting irritant is the fishermen issue. Indian fishermen, who are found poaching on the Sri Lankan waters, have often been arrested and kept in jail for inordinate periods. The Tamil Nadu government has always made a big noise about it. This has to be resolved sooner rather than later. Jayalalithaa has been making noises about the Centre’s proposal for a Goods and Services Tax too. There is no doubt that Modi will have to take her on board over both the GST Bill and other pieces of legislation in Parliament. As a political block, the AIADMK has become more important to Modi since the Bharatiya Janata Party is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.
A major question before Jayalalithaa is whether she should maintain cordial relations with the BJP and get more benefits for the state or oppose it at the state level because the ruling party at the Centre is looking to increase its presence in Tamil Nadu. Jaya’s acquittal will be a setback to the BJP plans. There have also been reports about a policy paralysis in Tamil Nadu and several files and projects remain undecided. Jayalalithaa had started her third term as chief minister well and schemes like the Amma canteen have been appreciated. She had planned many more schemes and the state machinery will now swing back into action.
Jayalalithaa might like to confine herself to the state until the dust settles down, instead of joining the third or fourth political front. Her first priority is to retain the state, which is not easy since no party has secured consecutive terms in Tamil Nadu. Her onerous task in the next few months will be to sustain her popularity, coupled with actual administrative achievements. Jaya has fought her legal and political cases with courage. The AIADMK chief’s fighting spirit is what has kept her in politics. However, no one knows whether she will call for an early elections riding on the sympathy wave or complete her full term.