Decimating the DMK in a 1991 Assembly elections, J Jayalalithaa fondly referred to by her followers as ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ changed the face of Dravidian politics which was centered around an anti-Brahminism, rationalism, and Tamil nationalism.
The AIADMK leader was at the helm for over a quarter of a century.
Chennai: Decimating the DMK in a 1991 Assembly elections, J Jayalalithaa fondly referred to by her followers as ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ changed the face of Dravidian politics which was centered around an anti-Brahminism, rationalism and Tamil nationalism. But, like any other successful political leader, she was stuck to the law of dialectics which states nothing except change is permanent, shifting her stand on key issues, finally slanting towards Tamil sentiments on some of the key issues.
She became the first leader of Dravidian movement to visit the temples, openly and her party men followed suit taking part in all kinds of rituals, poojas, and yajnas, considered an alien to the ideology of the movement’s founder E.V.R. Periyar.
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When her mentor MGR visited Kollur Mookambiga temple, he kept it a private affair, besides explaining that he stayed at the temple, since his mother Sathya was a devotee of the Goddess. But, the Jayalalithaa who faced scathing attacks from her decriers and staunch loyalists of rationalist ideology remained uncompromising on her beliefs, which she never attempted to hide from the public eye.
When DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin followed the Jayalalithaa’s path and have visited temples before the 2016 Assembly elections, following with an explanation that 90 percent of the people in DMK are Hindus, there was no criticism from anywhere. Such an announcement would have been impossible in Dravidian politics, before the advent of Jayalalithaa, but the Stalin’s visit did not attract any resentment and accepted as a routine affair.
As far as Tamil nationalist rhetoric is to be concerned, there were two phases in Jayalalithaa’s political career. The Eelam rhetoric was put in backburner in her first two terms in power. Her severe anti-LTTE stand after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi pushed DMK to the total silence on the Lankan Tamils issue, which was pushed to smaller players.
When Jayalalithaa conveyed a resolution seeking an extradition of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2002, the DMK did not vote against it and have stayed neutral, marking a big shift in Dravidian politics identified for its Tamil nationalist fervour.
Though, after the end of the Lankan military offensive in May 2009, she shifted her stand following the widespread sympathy for the civilian casualties. She used the Mullivaikkal massacre as a whip to flay the DMK leader M. Karunanidhi and take away the aura of champion of Tamils from her arch rival. After coming to the power in 2011, she has appropriated some of the demands made by Tiger supporters and passed a series of resolutions against the island government, including the survey on separate Tamil Eelam and international probe into the war crimes.
The political culture too underwent a drastic transformation with the loyalty to leadership turning into the most preferred criteria than ideological commitment. The party leaders competed with one another to show their loyalty through their body language, sycophancy & derogatory attacks on opponents.
The DMK partially took a leaf from the rival’s book, taking the Dravidian politics to the rock bottom of personality politics. The reservation politics of Dravidian parties never underwent the change after Jayalalithaa’s dominance, as she herself followed the advice of DK leader K. Veeramani to protect the 50 percent reservation for backward communities, earning the title of ‘Samooga Needhi Katha Veeranganai’.
She was described as the evolution of Dravidian movement by the DK, the inventor of the anti-Brahmin movement. In the Dravidian movement, which had its roots in anti-Brahminical moorings of the Justice Party, she went on to emerge and has remained the unchallenged head of one of its key mass movements, impacting and transforming the Dravidian politics of her time.