Jayalalithaa’s legacy

The AIADMK supremo won the hearts of millions, especially women, with a slew of welfare measures though she was strongly criticised for her imperious style of functioning. Her death has left her party and government at a crossroads.

Published : Dec 21, 2016 12:30 IST

Jayalalithaa at an election campaign at Puthur in Tiruchi district.

Jayalalithaa at an election campaign at Puthur in Tiruchi district.

THE All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, is passing through a crucial phase in its 44-year existence. The death of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who was the party’s supreme leader, at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai on December 5 saw a quick transition of power. O. Panneerselvam, who was number two and Finance Minister in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet, was sworn in as Chief Minister by Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao just two hours after Jayalalithaa’s death at around 11.30 p.m.

Even as thousands of party cadres are grieving over the demise of Jayalalithaa and making a beeline for the MGR Memorial on Marina beach in Chennai, her last resting place, to pay their respects, her “surrogate sister” and aide V.K. Sasikala, who wielded enormous power in the party and the AIADMK government despite being an extraconstitutional authority, is all set to become the party general secretary. Although party leaders at various levels invited her to take over the reins, the move has caused resentment among the cadres who view Sasikala as a pretender to the throne who, according to them, does not possess the necessary qualities to lead a party having 1.5 crore primary members. Grass-root workers feel she is not a charismatic mass leader like Jayalalithaa.

In fact, the sight of Sasikala and her family members, who had positioned themselves near the body of Jayalalithaa, which was kept at Rajaji Hall in Chennai on December 6 for the public to pay homage, generated revulsion and disgust in the minds of the cadres. What galled them was that several of Sasikala’s relatives, who had been expelled from the party in December 2011 and were not to be seen for the past five years, formed a phalanx around the Chief Minister’s mortal remains. Jayalalithaa and Sasikala had a turbulent but symbiotic relationship. Sasikala was shown the door from the Chief Minister’s residence, Veda Nilayam, in December 2011 but was allowed to take up residence there again after she apologised to “akka” (elder sister). Earlier, on August 27, 1996, after the AIADMK’s humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections, Jayalalithaa announced that she was distancing herself from Sasikala “in deference to the wishes of my party men, the general public” and others who blamed Sasikala and others for the defeat. However, after a few months, Sasikala was back in the reckoning at Jayalalithaa’s residence at Poes Garden in Chennai.

If any rebellion from the State’s western belt was expected against Sasikala’s ambition to wield power as the party general secretary, it did not materialise. The western belt, called the “Kongu mandalam”, has been the AIADMK’s strong base ever since the party was founded by actor-politician M.G. Ramachandran in 1972. In the Assembly elections held in May 2016, the AIADMK won 45 of the 57 seats in the western districts. Kongu Vellala Gounders form a sizable section of the population in the Kongu mandalam, which comprises Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, Erode, Krishnagiri, Namakkal, Salem, Tiruppur and the Nilgiris districts. They were hoping that a Minister belonging to their community would be made either Chief Minister or party general secretary. Public Works Minister Edappadi Palanisamy’s name was “highlighted” as a possible candidate for the post of Chief Minister, but it did not happen. Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M. Thambi Durai was mentioned as a choice for the post of party general secretary. There were rumours that K.A. Sengottaiyan might raise the banner of revolt if he was not made Minister. Sengottaiyan had been elected seven times from the Gobichettipalayam Assembly constituency, including twice when MGR was Chief Minister. All the three, Palanisamy, Thambi Durai and Sengottaiyan, are Vellala Gounders. None of them put up a fight against Sasikala.

In a statement on December 11, Thambi Durai declared that “Chinnamma is the political heir after honourable Amma”. (While Jayalalithaa was called “Amma”, Sasikala is addressed as “Chinnamma”). Sengottaiyan declared in a statement on December 9 that he would be forever “loyal to the party leadership and ‘puratchi thalavi’ [revolutionary leader] Amma”. In an undated statement sent on December 10 as the party treasurer, Panneerselvam claimed that the only way forward for the AIADMK to be led with “discipline, like an army unit” as Jayalalithaa did, was for “Chinnamma” to take over as general secretary. What was surprising was that he should protest his loyalty to “Chinnamma”. Panneerselvam and Sasikala belong to the Mukkulathor community. Moreover, he had the full backing of Sasikala and her relatives on the previous two occasions when he was made Chief Minister for brief spells in 2001 and 2014-15 when Jayalalithaa was unseated after court verdicts went against her.

In carefully orchestrated events, AIADMK Members of Parliament, youth wing office-bearers, information technology wing members, office-bearers of Thanjavur North, Tiruvarur, Tuticorin and other districts, and leaders of various caste outfits, made a beeline for Poes Garden to entreat Sasikala to become the general secretary.

AIADMK leaders were categorical that Sasikala would become the party general secretary, for she held the key to the party’s finances, whether accounted or unaccounted. Trusts run the party organ Namadhu MGR , the television channel Jaya TV, the party headquarters’ office, and the party itself. To withdraw money from these trusts, the party general secretary and the treasurer (Panneerselvam) should jointly sign the cheques. But this was not the case with unaccounted money, the leaders said. “Sasikala was responsible for creating the party funds [when Amma was alive]. She was the power centre behind Jayalalithaa,” a leader said. They were confident that Panneerselvam would run the government for the remaining four years and a half that remains of the five-year term. During those four years, after becoming the general secretary, “Sasikala’s activities would be to make herself a mass leader. After that, she would do everything to become the Chief Minister,” a party leader said.

Informed sources said all the AIADMK district secretaries, Ministers and MLAs today owed their position to Sasikala. “They want to remain in their posts for the next four and a half years. They may blame Sasikala for the ills of the party. But their utmost priority now is to retain their posts and so they will do nothing to rock the boat,” said a source. Although the majority of the cadres and the general public were against Sasikala becoming the party general secretary, there was no leader worth his salt in the AIADMK to “consolidate the opposition to Sasikala and lead the party forward”, according to the sources. In the selection of party candidates for the 2016 Assembly elections, Sasikala ensured that no candidate who was given the party ticket had the backing of another if he/she got elected, the sources said. So the coalescence of a big group of AIADMK MLAs to block her from claiming the top party post was ruled out, they said. The panchayat elections, which may be held in April or May 2017, will be the acid test for the party to prove its unity. Cadres may not cooperate with the leaders during the local body elections if Sasikala became general secretary, the sources feared.

According to an AIADMK leader, cadres opposed Sasikala becoming general secretary because “Jayalalithaa did not groom a successor. She was not allowed to groom a successor. That is why she became authoritarian.”

The AIADMK’s constitution entails that its primary members should elect the general secretary directly. The party has a general council and an executive committee. Sasikala is both its primary member and executive committee member. But several party leaders said in case of an “urgent” necessity, the general council or the executive could meet and elect Sasikala the general secretary without the primary members’ vote.

A stumbling block in Sasikala’s path to becoming the general secretary is the disproportionate assets case in which she, along with her nephew V.N. Sudhakaran and her sister-in-law J. Ilavarasi, is a co-accused. Jayalalithaa was the prime accused in the case. The Supreme Court bench, comprising Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy, reserved its judgment in the case on June 7, 2016 (story on page 31).

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Congress are watching the developments unfolding in the AIADMK. H. Raja, a BJP leader from Tamil Nadu, set the cat among the pigeons when he told a television channel that his party would like the same person to be both the Chief Minister and the AIADMK general secretary. DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin is viewing with suspicion the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president S. Thirunavukkarasar’s moves. Thirunavukkarasar ensured that Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi not only visited Jayalalithaa in Apollo Hospitals, where she was admitted for fever and dehydration on September 22, but paid homage to her at Rajaji Hall and was present when the body was laid to rest. Thirunavukkarasar was a senior AIADMK leader before he parted company with Jayalalithaa. He subsequently joined the BJP and then the Congress. “Stalin thinks Thirunavukkarasar still has a soft corner for the AIADMK,” an informed source said. Besides, what nettled DMK leaders was that Rahul Gandhi, during his visits to Chennai, did not bother to call on DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi although the Congress and the DMK are allies. Karunanidhi was ailing when Rahul Gandhi visited Apollo Hospitals to enquire about the treatment being given to Jayalalithaa. However, Rahul Gandhi came to Chennai on December 17 to meet Karunanidhi, who has been undergoing treatment in a hospital.

Iron grip

Jayalalithaa had led the AIADMK to three successive victories. The party was voted to power in 2011, with the AIADMK winning 147 of the 234 Assembly seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party won 37 of the 39 seats in the State. In the 2016 Assembly elections, the AIADMK returned to power. Jayalalithaa had converted the party into a monolithic fortress and ran it with an iron grip for 27 years.

As The Hindu editorial published on December 7, 2016, said: “Adversity brought out the best in Jayalalithaa. As the Chief Minister fighting for the rights of her State, as a politician trying to spring back from electoral defeats, as a woman standing up to sexist taunts in what is still very much a man’s world, she was courageous to the point of being adventurist. In her passing, India has lost a leader who played a vital role in the shaping of Tamil Nadu during a crucial phase of the country’s economic development and social progress.”

She was Chief Minister for three full terms, 1991-96, 2001-06 and 2011-16. She died during her fourth term in office. The AIADMK led by her alternated between success and defeat in the Assembly elections. Defeats never demoralised her because she knew it was the way politics worked and that people’s verdicts had to be accepted. She fought hard both her legal and political battles. She was unseated twice by court verdicts when she was Chief Minister. She was sent to prison twice on corruption charges, first in December 1996 when she was not Chief Minister, and for the second time in September 2014, when she was Chief Minister. She was the first Chief Minister to be convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) when Special Judge V. Radhakrishnan convicted and sentenced her on February 2, 2000, to one year’s rigorous imprisonment for legalising the illegal construction of five additional floors by Hotel Pleasant Stay at Kodaikanal.

Jayalalithaa also came across as a strong, charismatic leader, who was uncompromising in protecting Tamil Nadu’s interests, be it on the Cauvery river waters issue with Karnataka, the Mullaperiyar dam dispute with Kerala, the Katchatheevu issue, the Goods and Services Tax and her refusal to hitch Tamil Nadu to the UDAY bandwagon for power reforms. She had no patience for negotiations to solve long-festering disputes such as the sharing of Cauvery waters and the Mullaperiyar waters, or the retrieval of Katchatheevu, which India had ceded to Sri Lanka. She took the legal route; she petitioned the Supreme Court on these issues and was successful in the Cauvery and Mullaperiyar stand-offs. She got the Centre to gazette the Cauvery Water Disputes’ Tribunal’s final award. The Supreme Court allowed Tamil Nadu to raise the water storage level in the Mullaperiyar reservoir from 136 feet to 142 feet.

But Jayalalithaa was also an enigma. She performed somersaults on crucial issues such as the Sri Lankan Tamils’ cause, the first nuclear power reactor going critical in the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, and the Gas Authority of India Limited’s pipeline project in the State. On April 16, 2002, the Assembly adopted a resolution urging the Centre to send the Army to Sri Lanka, with the consent of Colombo, to capture V. Prabakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and bring him to stand trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. In February 2014, with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections, the Jayalalithaa Cabinet decided to release from prison all the seven accused (Murugan, Nalini, Perarivalan, Santhan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran) in the Rajiv Gandhi case under Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Cabinet’s decision was forwarded to the Centre. In March 2016, ahead of the Assembly elections, the Jayalalithaa government made another attempt to release the seven convicted persons and wrote to the Centre seeking its views on the decision. The Centre rejected the Tamil Nadu proposal in April 2016.

When the civil war in Sri Lanka reached its peak in May 2009 and there were reports that thousands of Tamil civilians were killed in the Army’s offensive, Jayalalithaa callously remarked that it was inevitable that civilians would die in a war. However, on May 8, 2011, the Assembly adopted a special resolution demanding that the Centre take action to pressure the United Nations to declare all those responsible for the large-scale killing of Tamil civilians as “war criminals”. The Assembly adopted another resolution on March 27, 2013, asking the Centre to move a resolution in the U.N. Security Council for holding a referendum on the creation of Tamil Eelam. The referendum could be held among Tamils living on the island and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, the resolution suggested.

In the wake of an agitation led by S.P. Udayakumar, leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), for the closure of the Kudankulam project, Jayalalithaa met S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), and V. Narayanasamy, then Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, on September 21, 2011, and promised the State government’s support for the commissioning of the first unit. The next day, her Cabinet passed a resolution asking the Centre to stop the work on the project until people’s fears about the safety of the project were addressed. In the GAIL issue, Jayalalithaa first supported the laying of a pipeline across farmlands in the State but changed tack when the 2014 Lok Sabha elections were round the corner.

Squandered opportunity

When Jayalalithaa was voted to power in 1991, she had everything going for her. But in no time she squandered away the goodwill that she enjoyed among the electorate. Her government went berserk. Sasikala and her relatives went on a property-buying spree. Sasikala and her husband, M. Natarajan, functioned as the unelected eminences grises of Tamil Nadu politics. An Indian Administrative Service officer said this much: “Sasikala did everything except signing the government files.”

Frontline said in its issue dated December 27, 1996, that in the last five years “her [Jayalalithaa] government acquired a unique reputation among all State governments in India without exception for unbridled corruption, acts of high-handedness, mind-boggling extravagance and vulgarity as a new public virtue. She travelled in thousand-car convoys. Sycophancy stooped to new lows, literally: Ministers and MLAs—some of whom were much her senior—prostrated before her in public. An opulent cut-out culture flourished; giant cardboard representations of the caped Chief Minister towered over street corners (and occasionally came crashing down on account of natural causes). Whenever she stepped out of her high-security residence to take part in a function, her cut-outs came up on either side of the road for kilometres.”

Cult of violence

The Jayalalithaa regime of 1991-96 also used brutal physical violence against the State Governor, its political opponents, advocates, an IAS officer, a Vice Chancellor, the then Chief Election Commissioner, and its own legislators. The AIADMK’s cult of violence first came into the open on August 14, 1991, within three months of its coming to power, when armed men stormed the office of Tharasu , a Tamil magazine, and stabbed two of its employees to death. The next day, during an Independence Day party, even as Governor Bhishma Narain Singh and Jayalalithaa were chatting on the lawns of Raj Bhavan, women AIADMK MLAs gheraoed the then Union Minister of State for Commerce P. Chidambaram to protest against the Union government’s decision to refer the Cauvery dispute to the Supreme Court ( Frontline , May 5, 1995).

The next day, on August 16, an AIADMK mob led by four MLAs attacked Chidambaram’s car with stones, sticks and iron rods as he drove out of the Tiruchi airport. The Minister was injured on his leg. But Jayalalithaa had the audacity to claim that Chidambaram and others had damaged their cars themselves. Acid was thrown on the IAS officer V.S. Chandralekha on May 19, 1992, when she was the Commissioner of Tamil Nadu Archives and Historical Research. She received severe burns on her face, neck and hands. On July 21, 1994, as advocate K.M. Vijayan stepped out of his house to go to the airport, four men beat him up with clubs. Vijayan suffered multiple fractures on his legs. He was attacked for filing a petition in the Supreme Court against the 69 per cent reservation in Tamil Nadu. On July 13, 1994, goondas, brandishing knives, threatened the Anna University Vice Chancellor for his stand that the university would stick to 50 per cent reservation as per the Supreme Court’s orders instead of the 69 per cent reservation ordered by the Jayalalithaa government. AIADMK men blocked the road leading from the airport when the Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan arrived in Chennai on November 27, 1994, because Seshan had made some allegations against the late Chief Minister and DMK’s founder C.N. Annadurai.

After Governor M. Channa Reddy gave the then Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy permission on March 25, 1995, to prosecute Jayalalithaa in two corruption cases, AIADMK men resorted to vicious violence. Party leaders, including a Minister and a legislator, gheraoed Channa Reddy at the Egmore railway station on April 7, 1995, when he was proceeding to travel by train to Tiruchi. Three days later, AIADMK workers threw eggs, stones and footwear at the Governor’s convoy near Tindivanam, when he was travelling to Puducherry. When Subramanian Swamy was addressing a public meeting in Chennai on April 8, 1995, AIADMK men rained acid bulbs, stones and soda bottles on the dais. Women activists of the AIADMK made obscene gestures and often abused Subramanian Swamy with choice expletives on the Madras High Court premises. Robberies, dacoities and murders were rampant across the State. The goonda raj reached its nadir with a murderous assault on advocate R. Shunmugasundaram on May 30, 1995. Five men attacked him with iron rods and knives in his office in Kilpauk. He suffered multiple fractures and lost a finger.

The attackers revealed their motive when they shouted, “How dare you file a case against Amma?” Shunmugasundaram had drafted a criminal complaint to prosecute Jayalalithaa under Section 169 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) because Jaya Publications, in which she and Sasikala were partners, had bought land belonging to the government-owned Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation (TANSI) ( Frontline, July 14, 1995).

Hardly any development activity took place in the State between 1991 and 1996. The Jayalalithaa government had no policy on industrialisation. It did not initiate any land reforms. Besides, the public distribution system came under assault. The government reduced the allotment of 20 kilogram of rice to 12 kg a month. There was a savage increase in bus fares.

On the political side, Jayalalithaa antagonised her ally, the Congress, by claiming that the AIADMK had not come to power riding on the sympathy wave generated by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. She unilaterally terminated her alliance with the Congress.

There was needless loss of lives, too. On February 18, 1992, a stampede occurred during the “maha maham” celebrations at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu when Jayalalithaa and Sasikala bathed and offered prayers at a special bathing enclosure at the temple tank. Forty-eight people were killed in the melee. The stampede occurred because barricades on the banks of the tank collapsed. The Chief Minister was keen on attending the “maha maham” festival because her birthday fell on that day (under the “Maham” star in the Tamil month of Masi, a day that is considered auspicious to take a dip in that particular temple tank). An assessment revealed that the stampede took place because the space available for pilgrims had become restricted because of the security given to Jayalalithaa. A People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) report said “the stampede occurred because of simultaneous police lathi charge at two places”, inside the tank, close to Jayalalithaa’s enclosure, and at the northern end.

What capped the vulgarity of the regime was the “mother of all marriages” that took place on September 7, 1995. The cover story on the marriage, published in Frontline dated October 5, 1995, began thus: “It was the mother of all marriages. For crude medieval splendour and arrogant display of wealth, the marriage of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s ‘foster son’, V.N. Sudhakaran, with N. Sathyalakshmi, granddaughter of film actor Sivaji Ganesan, may remain unrivalled forever. For weeks, the stunning scale of the preparations had the people of the State in a sullen thrall. Everything about the wedding was designed haughtily to overawe: the pandal covering 25 acres, a fairy-tale setting along the roads leading to the wedding venue, about two lakh invitees, expensive gifts that accompanied the invitation, the overt display of diamond jewellery, and the hour-long fireworks. The money spent is estimated to be between Rs.50 crore and Rs.100 crore.”

It is a different story that Sudhakaran, son of Vanithamani Vivekanandam, elder sister of Sasikala, fell out with Jayalalithaa later. He was shown the door from the Chief Minister’s residence and even a case was booked against him for allegedly possessing “heroin”.

It was no surprise that voters handed a humiliating defeat to the AIADMK-Congress alliance in the 1996 Assembly elections. Jayalalithaa was defeated in Bargur. All her 17 Ministers lost their seats. Congress candidates lost in all the 66 seats they contested. The DMK, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) headed by G.K. Moopanar, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and two other small parties contested as allies against the AIADMK. The DMK won 172 out of 176 seats it contested, and the TMC 39 of the 40 seats it contested. Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister. To fulfil its election promise that those who indulged in corruption during the previous AIADMK regime would be punished, 46 cases under the PCA and the IPC were filed against Jayalalithaa, her erstwhile Ministers and some bureaucrats. Of these cases, nine were filed against Jayalalithaa.

A revolt broke out in the party against Jayalalithaa after the AIADMK’s defeat. What angered the rebels was Jayalalithaa’s firm refusal to cut off her ties with Sasikala although senior party leaders told her that it was people’s wrath against the activities of Sasikala and her relatives, especially their act of openly embarking on buying properties, that had led to the party’s defeat. Jayalalithaa announced on August 27, 1996, that she was “distancing” herself from Sasikala and her relatives “in deference to the wishes of my party men, the general public and my friends and well-wishers”. She claimed in a statement released on that day that she had taken “this firm step” since “numerous complaints, rumours, false propaganda by political adversaries and media stories have given an impression of my being under the control of the family of Ms. Sasikala…”. She added, “I am on my own and am as independent as I have always been.” She announced to the “world” that from that day, she had “no foster son”. Jayalalithaa said, “...Sudhakaran was only a foster son and not adopted legally, and hence my oral withdrawal.”

But the announcement came too late. The party had already split and the rebel faction “expelled” Jayalalithaa from the party. To boot, nobody believed Jayalalithaa’s words that she was distancing herself from Sasikala. It was a ruse to buy peace with the rebels. After a few months, Sasikala and Jayalalithaa were together again in the Poes Garden bungalow.

Buffeted by the cases filed against her, Jayalalithaa realised that she had to return to power in the May 10, 2001, Assembly elections to survive the onslaught. She cobbled up a mega alliance with the TMC, the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPI and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). The AIADMK won a majority of its own. Jayalalithaa filed her nomination papers from four constituencies. But the returning officers rejected her bid to contest because she had been disqualified from contesting the elections. She attracted the disqualification because in October 2000 Special Judge P. Anbazhagan had convicted and sentenced her to three years’ and two years’ rigorous imprisonment in the two TANSI cases. Yet, Governor M. Fathima Beevi, a former Supreme Court judge, administered the oath of office to Jayalalithaa. Jayalalithaa was, however, unseated when the Supreme Court struck down her appointment. Panneerselvam was installed as Chief Minister. She was back as Chief Minister on March 2, 2002, after the Madras High Court acquitted her in the TANSI cases (see separate story).

Now, the Jayalalithaa government turned on Karunanidhi with a vengeance. In a midnight operation, the police violently arrested him (see separate story). Jayalalithaa antagonised State government employees by dismissing about one lakh of them. She treated schoolteachers and State Electricity Board employees shabbily. The AIADMK government dismissed 13,000 rural welfare workers because they were appointed by the previous DMK government. Several thousand road gang mazdoors, appointed by the Karunanidhi government, were given marching orders. She undid many good schemes initiated by the DMK government. She closed down the “uzhavar sandhais” (farmers’ markets) where farmers sold their produce directly. With the AIADMK commanding a majority in the Assembly, the House passed a law banning conversions. This infuriated Muslims and Christians. The Assembly enacted a law prohibiting animal sacrifices in front of temples, which angered the rural folk.

In the 2006 Assembly elections, the DMK returned to power, defeating the AIADMK. In the May 2011 Assembly elections, the AIADMK was voted to power after it allied with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), the CPI(M), the CPI and a few other parties. In a matter of months, the AIADMK antagonised the DMDK and ties between the two parties broke. In the Assembly, the Ministers would recite poems or prefatory addresses that would lavish incredible praise on Jayalalithaa and abuse Karunanidhi before they started replying to discussions on grants to their Ministries. Jayalalithaa made all the important announcements under Rule 110 of the Assembly. She took to Rule 110 because it prohibited discussions. If violence was used during her first term in office to subjugate assorted opponents, this time she took to using the criminal defamation law to silence her critics and quell dissent. On five different occasions, the Supreme Court censured the Jayalalithaa government for its penchant to slap criminal defamation cases against political opponents and newspaper editors ( Frontline , September 30, 2016).

Welfare schemes

However, it was during its third term in office that the Jayalalithaa government came into its own in implementing welfare schemes. It fulfilled most of the election promises it made, which aimed at the betterment of the working class. It distributed free mixers, grinders and fans, and goats and cows, which were the promises made in the 2011 election manifesto. The AIADMK government also started distributing 20 kilograms of rice free of cost every month to eligible cardholders while the very poor received 35 kg a month through the public distribution system (PDS). Pulses and edible oil were sold through the PDS at subsidised rates. Children studying in government schools were given free notebooks, free textbooks including atlases, free uniforms, free geometry boxes, and free chappals. Pupils were given colour pencils, crayons, chessboards and school bags, all free of cost. Those studying in government and aided schools and colleges received free laptops. Free bicycles were distributed to Plus Two students of government and aided schools.

Women formed the core of her constituency. If she was able to come back to power in the 2016 Assembly elections, it was because the big majority of women voters stood by her. They were impressed with the array of schemes aimed at their welfare. They included Pongal gift packs, an assistance of Rs.18,000 to pregnant women under the Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme, a marriage assistance scheme of Rs.50,000 to women who are graduates or diploma holders, distribution of eight grams of gold free of cost for making mangalasutra (a pendant worn at the time of marriage), the Chief Minister’s girl child protection scheme, six months of maternity leave to women who are employed in government, and distribution of baby care kits containing a towel, a dress, baby shampoo, cakes of baby soap, a rattle and so on. The centrepiece of the Jayalalithaa government’s schemes was the setting up of Amma canteens, where hygienic food is sold at subsidised rates. Amma canteens are a great hit with people employed in small establishments. Other popular schemes include Amma water, Amma pharmacies, Amma cement, Amma seeds, and the Amma master health check-up plan.

The Panneerselvam government will be under pressure to fulfil the election promises, which include introduction of total prohibition in phases, 50 per cent subsidy to women to buy mopeds or scooters to enable them to drive to work, a mobile phone to every household with ration cards, houses for fishermen, and free distribution of 750 units of power to those with powerlooms.

Health issues

Ill-health had been plaguing Jayalalithaa ever since she was unseated as Chief Minister on September 27, 2014, after Special Judge Michael D’Cunha found her, Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi guilty in the disproportionate wealth case. The Special Court in Bengaluru convicted and sentenced each of them to four years’ imprisonment. All the four were lodged in the Parappana Agrahara prison, about 20 kilometres from Bengaluru. On October 17, 2014, the Supreme Court suspended the sentence on all the four accused and granted them bail. However, the loss of office and the trappings of power hurt Jayalalithaa.

Although she ran the Panneerselvam government from behind the scenes, she had become melancholic and totally inaccessible even to Ministers and senior party leaders. She sat out the next seven months in the seclusion of her home until Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka High Court acquitted her and the others in the case on May 11, 2015. Although there were joyous celebrations on the roads leading to her house on that day, the word was out that she was keeping indifferent health. In June 2015, she contested and got elected to the Assembly in a byelection from Radhakrishnan Nagar in Chennai. She was once again sworn in as Chief Minister. She led her party to victory in the May 2016 elections, and was sworn in as Chief Minister.

By July 2016, her movements had slowed down. She walked gingerly. She suffered from acute diabetes. On September 22, she was admitted to a multidisciplinary critical care unit in Apollo Hospitals for treatment of infection in the lungs. She suffered from acute respiratory distress syndrome. However, Apollo Hospitals, in a press release, merely said that the Chief Minister suffered from fever and dehydration and that she was “stable and under observation”. She was fitted with a pacemaker and put on a respirator. Sasikala took up full-time residence in the hospital.

Dr Richard Beale, a specialist-intensivist from the Guys and St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, flew in to examine her. He concurred with the line of treatment given to her. Four specialists in different disciplines from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, advised the doctors of Apollo Hospitals on the Chief Minister’s treatment.

On October 6, for the first time, Apollo Hospitals came up with an elaborate statement, stating that it had “drawn up a detailed medical management plan, keeping in view the Chief Minister’s known history of diabetes and winter bronchitis in inclement weather”. It added that “the present treatment regimen includes continued respiratory support, nebulisation, drugs to decongest the lungs, antibiotics, nutrition, general nursing care and supportive therapy”. She was given passive physiotherapy. Jayalalithaa was on the mend by the last week of October. But her health condition suffered a setback on December 4 when she had a cardiac arrest.

What was puzzling was that the 136 AIADMK legislators had gathered at the party headquarters’ building on Avvai Shanmugham Road on December 5 evening to elect the new legislature party leader. Several hours earlier, they were asked to gather at Apollo Hospitals and sign papers indicating that they would support anybody who was appointed as Chief Minister and party general secretary.

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu reached Apollo Hospitals around 6 p.m. He reportedly played a role, at the instance of the Centre, in maintaining the status quo , that is, Panneerselvam would be elected the legislature party leader and sworn in as Chief Minister. Around midnight, after Panneerselvam, Palanisamy, Thangamani and other senior leaders arrived at the party headquarters, the legislators elected Panneerselvam the legislature party leader. The party legislators travelled in three buses to Raj Bhavan and at around 1.30 a.m. on December 6 Panneerselvam was sworn in as Chief Minister by the Governor. All the 31 Ministers in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet were sworn in as Ministers. They retained their portfolios.

Panneerselvam and Sasikala wanted no trouble.

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