Tamil Nadu continues to invoke the spirit of Jayalalithaa
There is a sprite that enervates everything political, nay, let’s make that ‘literally everything’, in Tamil Nadu. It is quite possible, anecdotally, that more references are made to this spectre than any living person in the State. The most powerful single force in the State today, the mover of more than just the Ouija board, the spirit on everyone’s minds, goes by the moniker ‘Ammavin Aanma’, roughly translated as ‘Amma’s spirit’, where ‘Amma’ is none other than former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
While Dravidian parties tend to frequently hark back to their leaders long gone — Anna, Periyar, MGR — it is quite possible that Jayalalithaa, who followed all of them, is probably the most popular extra corporeal authority this side of the hemisphere, in current times. The spectre of Amma’s spirit hovers regally over a State in the throes of elections to Lok Sabha constituencies and bypolls, the latter caused primarily by internecine battles for succession after her death. There is scarcely an election campaign speech today that does not invoke her either as leader or sprite – both nonpareil.
After her prolonged hospitalization and subsequent death, there was a vacuum in the affairs of her party — the AIADMK could not stop talking about her. This in itself may not be all that surprising, given the party’s tendency to quietly slip its leaders in into the pantheon. If we were to put a rough date for the invocation of the spirit, it could be said that it was Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam who roused her from her resting place on the sands of the Marina. As part of his ‘Dharma Yuddham’ where he sat in protest at her memorial, he said he had conferred with Amma’s Aanma before deciding to break ranks with the ruling party.
But what is interesting is that it turns out no other party can ignore her either. Once invoked, clearly this was no spirit to be fettered and the reign of the apparition was well and truly here. Tamil Nadu’s political discourse became, in large measure, about her death, with various parties vying with each other to speculate on the causes of her demise. While the State government appointed a commission of inquiry, DMK leader M.K. Stalin has promised to get to the truth behind her death when his party comes to power.
Her wraith is frequently called upon, in campaign rallies, television debates, in daily governance, in public functions. Even today, the rulers of the State claim it is Amma’s rule, that they are taking forward her agenda, serving the people as per her wishes. Perhaps, they will be well guided by this spirit from the beyond after all, for matters of the State are indeed grave.