24 November, 2020

Pride And The Priestess

Jayalalithaa was what the masses wanted. To understand her is also to understand the Tamil masses.

Photograph by Getty Images
Pride And The Priestess
outlookindia.com
2016-12-09T17:10:52+05:30

It is rather reductionistic to explain Jayalalitha away as a matinee idol who mir­aculously made it big as a populist leader who bribed her electorate or as a legatee of a big mentor. She was all this and much more. Also, she was what the masses wanted. To understand her is also to understand the Tamil masses. They are not schooled in caste politics, the way the Yadavs of the Gangetic plains or the Marathas of Maharashtra or the Lingayats of Karnataka are. The Tamils were raised on Tamil pride. They vote not for the caste of the leader but for the idea of tanka tai tamizh (the golden mother Tamil). So, whoever worships well at the altar of goddess Tamil can aspire to become their head priest. So, a Malayali upper-caste Nair held sway over the masses for 10 years as their undisputed leader because he was the one-man propaganda machinery for the Tamil self-respect idea. His career as a caring administrator bolstered the screen image. It wasn’t really an image that he built to trap the masses but a welfare machine he created to supplement and complement the scripted...

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