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Sunday 12 July 2020

Not The Jaya We Knew

he decision of Jayaram Jayalalithaa’s party AIADMK to bury her body, going against the Iyengar tradition but following a Dravidian practice, might not prove a politically judicious decision in the long run. Since it was a political party that made the decision, the issue must not be looked at culturally or religiously. While, in her formative years, Puratchi Thalaivi was a protégé of MG Ramachandran, who, in turn, had broken free of the DMK on the strength of his charisma and yet remained a Dravidian politician, Jayalalithaa built her image independent of her mentor’s Periyar-driven ideology to carve a niche for herself. This space was not only to provide succour to the marginalised and ostracised Brahmins of Tamil Nadu but also to assure the larger Hindu community of care for their concerns. For the second reason too, the first was paramount. That is because it is the Dravidian Brahmin who stitches India into a seamless cultural whole ― with their pristine religious rituals as well as their devotion to Carnatic music, closer links to the Sanskrit language than north Indian Hindi, the act of naming children after Hindu gods, benign gaze at society, an overall underplayed existence while not compromising on the underscore of regional identity in terms of language, clothing and other political statements of fashion. A Brahmin Jayalalithaa helped create this constituency. She cultivated it further through her appearances in Hindu places of worship and opposition to the Communal Violence Bill (and quiet retraction thereafter) that read as though a Hindu alone can be a perpetrator or initiator of riots. Her party’s act of following the Lingayat or other Dravidian traditions in last rites militated against this image. Of course, she was no saint so detached from worldliness that Hindu spirituality would consider that her soul could be freed without going through the process of cremation. However, as said before, this is not a religious issue.

Is it of inheritance? The relation performing the last rites would be the prime claimant of the properties of the dead. Given Jayalalithaa’s estranged relationship with her brother Jayakumar, and also her proximity to Sasikala Natarajan, was the latter, seen controlling the proceedings zealously last night, wary of Deepak Jayakumar emerging as her boss’s heir? This intra-party tussle is a myopic act by whosoever is involved in it. A personality cult-driven party has no life beyond the lifetime of the personality. Neither Sasikala nor Deepak can imagine in the wildest of their dreams to grow up to be an icon of the stature of either MGR or Jayalalithaa.

The burial has thus buried the distinction between the DMK and AIADMK. With the towering M Karunanidhi still going strong in his 90s and appearing to pass on the baton to MK Stalin, the AIADMK cannot snatch the Dravidian plank from them. Even Stalin went around during the last election in shirt and trousers rather than a veshti for an image makeover. With this faux pas of burial by Sasikala, and signs that Chief Minister O Panneerselvan will get into a race of competitive sectarianism with the DMK, the Hindu-leaning electorate might feel orphaned. It’s a void the BJP, till now waiting for the passing of Amma’s era, would be anxious to fill. The AIADMK has just paved the way for its entry in Tamil Nadu.

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