As the mortal remains of the Tamil Empress are lying in the Rajaji Hall for mourners to pay last respects, I couldn’t help but notice, the irony of Tamil queen of freebies being laid to rest in a hall named after the creator of India’s first free-market party. C. Rajagopalachari was the founder of the Swantantra Party, which believed in Laissez Faire economy, abhorring among other things, a government manufactured culture of doling out freebies.
For much of her last tenure, Jayalalitha’s focus remained on out-doing their fierce political rival DMK when it came to untamed socialism. In 2014 general elections, AIADMK promised to extend its popular welfare schemes like giving away of free grinders, mixies, laptops, milch cows and goats, etc to the people. It also promised creation of around 10 crore jobs to tackle the menace of unemployment.
This was subsequently followed up by 2016 state assembly elections in which AIADMK had promised things like 100 unit free electricity to every household, employment for one member of every family, free laptops with internet for class 11 and 12 students. Also targeting the women voters, it had promised 50 per cent subsidy to working women to buy scooters, raising financial assistance for pregnant ladies to Rs 18,000 among others.
During the 2006 elections too, AIADMK did a lot of chest thumping for reportedly distributing around 5,00,000 bicycles to the students and promised to give away one to every student in the state.
The result is in the last 5 years, the state of Tamil Nadu has witnessed a 92% increase in the debt. With the projected figure of Rs 2,11,483 crores in 2015-16. Any central remittance given to quench this debt would, not only legitimise such populist expenditure but also would deny other states finances, which could have been spent more wisely. Meanwhile, the Indian liberals are scrambling to claim her legacy as one of economic growth and development, ignoring the blank-cheque she assumed to get there.
For much of her tenure, Jayalalitha ruled Tamil with an Iron fist and mutilated the political virtues ideal to the left. First, are the voluntary austerity that is expected in the political life and the other being accommodation of opposition and dissenters.
Is there a need to remind how the police picked up the opposition leader Karunanidhi way past the midnight, roughing him up, on his way to the police station? Or the wedding bash of her foster son which made its way to Guinness book of world records for its grandiose, costing an estimated $23 million? Remember the police raid at her home which uncovered more than 10,000 saris, bags of gold and more than 400 pairs of shoes?
Rather than fostering a state religion, she turned herself into a state religion that much like religion thrived on plight and misery of people. Do we need to remind how she halted flood relief supplies until they had ‘Amma’ sticker on them?
However, one needs to acknowledge that she indeed had a remarkable ability to tap into and exploit the ready-made reservoirs of servility and credulity that is unique to the south. It was equally empowering and amusing to see how she made a party of men bow in humility to her. It remains yet to be seen, for someone heralded as breaking gender barriers, what measures she took not to become the last woman chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the years to come.