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Jayalalithaa aka Amma: Why she was Goddess to millions of Tamils?
Should democracy afford cult personality? Many experts will differ in their answers, but in Indian democracy, cult personality driven polity is very common.
Even the BJP, which claims to be a party with difference, finally succeeded in getting power single handedly due to cult personality of Narendra Modi. Except Left, all other parties, national or regional, are driven by personality cult of their supreme leaders. AIADMK was no different where Jayalalithaa was the only supreme leader.

Is Jayalalithaa different from other cult personalities in Indian polity? Do Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Mulayam Singh/Akhilesh Yadav, NTR/Chandrababu Naidu or even Narendra Modi enjoy the same cult personality as Jayalalithaa? My answer is a big 'No'. I only consider Indira Gandhi a match with Jayalalithaa's cult politics.

When cardiac arrest news spread thousands of people thronged in front of Chennai's Apollo hospital. At the same time both the state and central government were busy in strengthening the security system throughout the state fearing severe backlash from millions of people who literally used to worship Jaya. Many are of the opinion that Jayalalithaa might have succumbed to cardiac arrest on 4th December itself but she was kept alive mechanically to ensure things do not aggravate seriously.

When Indira Gandhi was assassinated nearly 4000 people died as a result of backlash. One can argue that it was because of the assassination of Indira Gandhi people (read Congress supporters) had reacted violently, whereas since Jayalalithaa would die a natural death, why people would react violently? One can also argue that sycophantic nature of Tamil Nadu polity maybe the reason behind preventive measures, which have been taken.

I agree that TN polity is sycophantic particularly towards Jayalalithaa, but it should also be not forgotten that Tamil Nadu is one of the most educated and developed states thus sycophantic polity appears to be odd. Why such a contrast there? Before answering it, let me share a Facebook comment here on Jayalalithaa by Mr. Sankar Narayanan, a person who keep track of political developments in the country. 

'JJ was notoriously autocratic cum arrogant, vindictive to the core and allegedly monumentally corrupt. Former bureaucrat Chandralekha (who later joined politics courtesy Subramanian Swamy) had to face acid attack for disobeying the PTB. Talk to any business person or industrialist or bureaucrat or her own party men, you will realise the horror. Prostration at her feet saves quite a good amount of money for her Bhakts! Can you beat it!! Heard it from the horse's mouth. Late Cho Ramaswamy, her supporter and a bitter critic of Karunanidhi had once said: "In TN's corruption saga - Mu Ka is primary school (originator), MGR the High School (nurtured and widened the trend) and Jaya the University (all pervasive and ultimate)." An ex-Orissa bureaucrat (who held important departments in GoI) once told me an incident related to Jaya. It's unbelievable! Normally politicians demand money for any new venture or contract. But in Jaya's rule, one had to pay to run the existing unit or operate an ongoing contract too. There was an unwritten code telling at what distance a minister or a babu or MLA or MP or party cadre has to stand while meeting her (of late, a very rare occurrence). There used to be rehearsals for swearing in of Cabinet ministers. But have you heard of rehearsals for commoners before meeting Jaya! Ask Subramanian Swamy, T.N. Seshan (ex-chief election commissioner), Mani Shankar Aiyar, Hindu's N. Ram or the scores of journalists and Opposition leaders of TN to know the tolerance level of Jaya on criticism or dissent. Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi learnt a lesson of his life after a tiff with her.'

Some can agree or disagree with the above post. But most people have believed in that perception (if at all it's a perception). The same is true for all other personality driven parties in India. Then why Jayalalithaa was worshiped like a Goddess, in a developed state like Tamil Nadu? Why she had more followers than even her political mentor MGR?

DMK cadres are also sycophant but no one will notice people including loyal DMK members worshiping Karunanidhi. There is a difference between worshiping and obeying.

The difference between the personality of Jayalalithaa and other personalities of personality driven parties is her ability to deliver to poor people. Populism is used by everyone, but Jayalalithaa ensured that all her populist programs do not remain a mere slogan only but are delivered.

She was called Amma (the mother) and Amma brand is everywhere in Tamil Nadu. Amma canteens not only provide quality foods but the standard of hygiene and dignity to customers is so high that even the star hotels will fail.

Around 37% of the state budget was spent on her populist programs and Jayalalithaa ensured that no money intended for poor can be siphoned away in the middle. This is the reason behind her success story and poor people seeing a Goddess in her. She might have 10000 sarees or 5000 shoes, but people observed her commitment to the poor public.

Thus despite whatever her political character used to be, she remained a Goddess and we need to accept that. In a welfare state where poor comprises 35% of the population, we need such Goddesses in polity. The North Indian leaders must realise that your slogans are not enough unless the promises made to the poor public are fulfilled.

Jayalalithaa aka Amma, I offer you my best tributes, which I had rarely paid to any another political personality. Rest in peace.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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