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Jayalalitha Behind The Bars: A Post-Modernist Phantasmagoria

By Maharathi

29 September, 2014

“This is not the final word’’, said a spokesman of Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli Prime Minister who lost office following a conviction of corruption on March 31, 2014.

In the dock, Mr. Olmert termed it all “an attempt at character assassination unprecedented in scope and force”.

The drama that has unfolded now involving former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Ms. J. Jayalalithaa evokes a feeling of déjà vu. One of the ace politicians in India, who has lost her Chief Ministership and MLA post on September 27, 2014, convicted as she was in a Bengaluru Special Court in disproportionate assets case, she must have felt the way Mr. Olmert did.

Her tens and thousands of followers in her party All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, including her Cabinet colleagues, must be hoping now, borrowing the words of Mr. Olmert’s spokesman; “this is not the final word’’.

From a teen bubbling with innocence to a sexagenarian with a chequered political career…. it is a long, arduous way for her, paved with joys and sorrows, despair and determination, and adoration and abandonment.

As a 15-year-old girl dreaming of pursuing higher education after matriculation, she had an existential pain of choosing which road out of two roads ahead. She would not have dreamt of storming the Tamil tinsel town and holding her own, finding a niche for herself; nor would she have dreamt of holding the State under her control for 13 staggered years; not at all would she have dared to dream of losing face, put behind bars on corruption charges.

Ms. Jayalalithaa has now earned the dubious distinction of being the first sitting Chief Minister in India, having lost office under the Prevention of Corruption Act and under the Representation of People Act. As a powerful politician who has come under the judiciary’s scanner, she has joined the league of Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, RJD leader in Bihar and Om Prakash Chautala, INLD chief.

In her case, one cannot help thinking over ifs and buts. Had the Supreme Court not quashed as invalid the section 8 (4) of the Representation of People Act, which protected convicted politicians, allowing them to go on appeal within three months and keeping the sentence in abeyance….had Mr. Rahul Gandhi not opposed the then UPA government’s move (hurried, in fact) to bring in ordinance to counter the apex court’s verdict that disqualified any politician from holding office or taking part in electoral politics on day one of conviction itself… Ms. Jayalalithaa would have continued as the CM and avoided being put behind bars, having full three months at her disposal to appeal the special court verdict.

Common people steeped in the Tamil lore must be wondering if the amount of Rs. 65. 66 crore is such a fabulous pack of bucks that the unaccounted assets earn one a massive penalty, introduced as they were already to an astronomically large 2G scam involving Rs. 1.75 lakh crores.

Justice, honesty and transparency are all, they know, outdated ‘in-things’ in politics. By and large, the common people cannot be jolted out of the conviction fully programmed into their brain that (to borrow the words of Artistotle) “Politicians have no leisure, because they are always aiming at something beyond political life itself, power and glory, or happiness’’.

The myth embedded in their Jungian collective unconscious is that one of the great ancient Tamil kings, Manuneethi Chozha, did not allow his love for his son to colour his sense of justice while awarding punishment to his son who has killed a calf, rolling the chariot wheels over it. They too have learnt not to give a damn about the myth, saying, “after all, it is a myth’’. Their mindset has been conditioned in the post-Independent India to the changed values and mores, thanks to the type of politicians they have got to lead them. They have almost resigned themselves to corruption as an inevitable and inalienable part of politics. (Such an India was captured in a pithy statement that former Prime Minister Ms. Indira Gandhi made: “Corruption is a global phenomenon’’).

Only books and oldies tell a lot of stories about really honest, selfless and patriotic leaders who ruled the State, leaving their own families in famine; after all, they are all stories a la mythologies worth being heard and appreciated with a streak of wistful thinking or with a touch of nostalgia. Just like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s world of magical realism.

The reality is a far cry, indeed, fully know the hoi polloi. At teashops, hairdressing salons, streetcorners and markets the commons pose the question: “Well! ‘Amma’ (Ms. Jayalalithaa) convicted… what about other politicians… don’t they have assets disproportional to their income?’’ Such queries keep swirling among endless debates that echo in refined intellectual parlances at educated fora.

Even from the educated women, shots are flung at the male-chauvinistic world: Do the male leaders have hands free of specks and stains?

Close on the heels of Ms. Jayalalithaa being put behind bars, Tamil Nadu was sent into an emotional tailspin, buses burnt, shops closed and normal life thrown out of gear. Well! Even that political fallout that spilled on to the streets evoked in the mind of the man in street the feeling of déjà vu.

While the former Chief Minister’s bevy of party leaders and lawyers are quite busy, going out of their way to get their leader released, the ordinary people were back to the buzz of their normal life, now that a new Chief Minister Mr. O. Panneerselvam, is at the helm of affair.

But the 18-year-old disproportionate assets case has cost the exchequer Rs. 3 crores, taking into account all court expenses right from 1996 to 2014. This was the information that Mr. Narasimha Murthy, a human rights activist in Karnataka, got under the Right to Information Act. He wondered whether the government should have spent such a huge amount for an individual, while it is not ready to give an application for any departmental service free of cost to citizens.

Maybe, he does not know the dynamics of powerful politicians. His voice goes unheard in the dazzling world of pomp and power.

Now that their rival is out of scene, all political leaders in Tamil Nadu are keeping their fingers crossed about the alliance re-configurations for the 2016 Assembly elections. Will Ms. Jayalalithaa get out of the legal imbroglio and bounce back to power? Or will her wings be cut to the comfort of her rivals aspiring for the throne in the Fort?

These are the questions doing the rounds in the political arena. The probable answers to the two contrasting queries have a tinge of wistful thinking. It all depends on which camp you belong to.

Yet, nothing is certain; and nothing is uncertain in politics. Always a sphinx-like riddle. For, as Albert Einstein said, “politics is more difficult than physics’’.

(Maharathi is a Tamil poet and a political and social commentator.)




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