Chennai: “I am asking you; you tell me, aren’t you all on the side of Puratchi Thalaivar MGR?” she roared from the Cuddalore town square on a sultry evening in 1982. A resounding “Yes” followed from the audience.
At her first political speech at an AIADMK conference on “Pennin Orumai” (Unity of Women) after she had joined the party on June 4, 1982, hundreds of people had gathered to get a glimpse of their favourite actress. That marked the beginning of Jayalalithaa Jayaraman’s eventful political life. Then came the Periyakulam by-election (1982) and Tiruchendur by-election (1983), where she drew huge crowds, especially women, who mostly turned up to see their beloved heroine.
“If the people had mostly turned up to see an actress, she appeared before them in the image of a fiery orator. She purposely undermined her glamour, she didn’t want to be identified by her ‘beautiful actress’ popularity on stage. At one point, she had even told MGR about his leaders’ poor oratory skills. She ran speech-training camps for AIADMK leaders,” recollects a senior AIADMK leader.
Thirty four years after she became a member of AIADMK and dogged by health problems, Jayalalithaa has remained a crowd-puller in the 2016 assembly elections with thousands of people thronging to her rallies – the largest turnouts for any party rally – sometimes numbering 40,000 to more than a lakh.
But there was no spontaneity left in her speeches. Look at her major rallies that started in early April, one could see that those electrifying speeches has become a thing of the past. Rivals called them a ‘queen’s monologue’. Without striking dialogues, she would detail her achievements, figures of growth in various sectors, listing them out one by one, sitting and reading out her speeches from printed cards using a large font size.
Most of her speeches followed the same pattern except for minor changes for rural or urban rallies. While her rallies in flood-affected Chennai, Kancheepuram and Virudhachalam in Cuddalore district stressed on the relief works and compensation she had given in just two months after heavy rains and the recent floods, these rallies would also have a long list of achievements and schemes she implemented for farmers, small scale industries, loan schemes the poor and Dalits, or how she took over and revived Anna Malai University spending Rs 525 crores etc.
As the convoy left her Poes Garden residence on April 9 to launch her first poll campaign in Chennai, hundreds were seen waiting all along the route, a stretch of some five kilometres, giving her a rousing welcome. It was the beginning of a mega tour of 22 major rallies covering all the 234 constituencies. “Makkalaal Naan, Makkalukaakave Naan,” (I am made of people, I am for the people) she would begin. “You (people) are everything for me. My life itself is for you. I am working hard for you, my aim is your prosperity,” she would say before a cheering crowd.
While she introduced herself as a “beloved sister” in Chennai where she contests from at R K Nagar constituency, she would refer to herself as a “mother of people who knows their needs” in the rural districts. The crowds would erupt into loud cheering. When she sought votes, she would turn into a ‘beloved sister’ and a ‘Mother” when she reminded them of achievements and welfare acts.
The only occasion she took her her eyes off the prepared speeches was when she attacked DMK chief M Karunanidhi, invoking memories of her fiery old self. She would raise her hand reminding people of the DMK’s dynastic politics, corruption, the Dinakaran office attack in Madurai that killed three, rampant crimes, rowdyism and land grabbing. She would ask: “Do you want them to come back to power? Will you chase them out when they come asking for votes again?” A resounding “Yes” was the reply at all her rallies, almost uncannily similar to the Cuddalore town square meeting of 1982.
By announcing prohibition in a phased manner, Jayalalithaa set herself aprt from the opposition parties which promised complete prohibition. She preferred a phased out policy because of rehabilitation of addicts and measures needed to augment lost revenue. In Chennai on April 9, she reminded her audience that the DMK had lifted the liquor ban in 1971. “Let everyone talk about prohibition but Karunanidhi has no moral right to talk about it.”
On TN’s power crisis, one of the major reasons for a crippled state economy during the last election, she says, “My dear people, do you remember those days with 11 hours long load shedding? Students were not able to study, how much you all had suffered under the DMK regime. Now we are a power surplus state, so vote for AIADMK,” she appealed, raising her voice a notch higher.
Another crucial element of her election propaganda relates to women: “The last five years has been a golden period for women. We have given marriage assistance of Rs 50,000 and four grams gold,” she said, listing out poll promises from 2011 that she had fulfilled including free cattle, goats, mixie, grinder, fans and breastfeeding shelters, allowance for unmarried women, etc. “Your beloved sister knows your needs,” she would say in Chennai, adding “Your beloved sister did all these things.’’
Everywhere she went she would say: “Dear people, what I have done in five years cannot be listed out in one day, one day may not be enough to explain things I did for a constituency, one constituency alone will take a week. How much I have done for you… You may celebrate and rejoice in these achievements,” she would utter benevolently and pause for the fervent applause to die down.
Besides the usual list of measures on education and health (that would include sub lists on the new schemes and renovation of dozens of hospital buildings), industries, small scale sector, she also would read out area wise measures. At the Aruppukottai rally in Virudhunagar district, she took almost 20 minutes to list out schemes for fishermen for instance. Also she would allot 5-10 minutes to describe each sector in a speech that would lass around 40 minutes. “I made 54 promises in 2011, all have been fulfilled. Many more schemes, beyond your imagination, will be implemented if I am elected again,” she would proclaim. And she would enumerate another list of schemes that were not promised but were implemented — Amma Canteens, Amma Cements, Amma Water, Amma salt… and as she pauses at free sanitary napkins, women who rose and applauded.
Her claims and achievements apart, she would take on the DMK, ridicule the Karunanidhi family, including his daughter and 2G scam accused Kanimozhi but people wonder why she has never attempted to attack Karunanidhi’s son M K Stalin. Meanwhile, as Jayalalithaa completed her sixth rally, Karunanidhi started his road show from Chennai on April 23. “Similarities between these two chief minister candidates is that both couldn’t stand and deliver a speech,” said N Nallathambi, a DMK functionary who attended Karunanidhi’s Saidapet rally. While 92-year old Karunanidhi is wheel chair bound, 68 year old Jayalalithaa uses a chair during her speeches as she reportedly suffers from severe knee pain.
A Karunanidhi speech would begin thus: “Whoever contests under DMK symbols are Anna’s brothers”. His speeches remain spontaneous even at this age. Some 35 rallies in his state wide trip are different from Jayalalithaa’s in many respects: he doesn’t need a prepared speech copy, he doesn’t make too many promises on stage, he talks about caste and he brings in a personal touch whenever he introduce his candidates referring to their family and political history and often referring the significance of each rally point in the history of Dravidian movement.
In speeches that would last about 20 minutes, he would say that “we will definitely win the election,” “I am sure that you are going to vote for DMK, a strong reply to all Droham (cruelties) done by her (Jayalalithaa),” “Is Tamil Nadu a family property of Jayalalithaa?”, “Change is needed, to not get ditched again by this government” and. “Vote for me,” he would say, , “our party, DMK, which is not a party but a movement, a family.” He would refer to Jayalalithaa as the selfish one, “one who stayed back in her bungalow with so much arrogance during the Chennai floods.”
His first election speech had created a stir and momentum when he nicknamed Jayalalithaa a ‘Maharani’ (princess). “Have you voted her to power to sit on that throne or to serve people? We (leaders) should be working for people. We should serve people. How many floods and cyclones we had, always ministers used to come out to help people. But this ‘maharani’ was sitting at home. Finally, when she came out to visit people, it was in a helicopter. Such a maharani is ruling this state. How long we should tolerate such a CM? Our comrades, our fighters, cadres, sympathisers and everyone should put an end to this rule,” he would say.
The Chennai floods and corruption allegations against Jayalalithaa took centre stage in all of Karunanidhi speeches; he would allege that the ‘Maharani’ was “sleeping” when the city was flooded. “She was rejoicing at her home. I tried to visit people. I am not praising myself. But to remind that any public servant should be worried about people, but she is worried about her own people, she running a government for them,” he said in Chennai and Cuddalore and Mayiladuthurai rallies.
Needless to say, the veteran politician also knew where to play which card. In Cuddalore, considered a hot bed of caste politics, OBC-Dalit violence and a stronghold of both Dalit and OBC parties, Karunanidhi would invoke the Dravidian card. He would remind a gathering of 10,000 people about the need to strengthen the hands of DMK to defeat AIADMK. “Consider us like your own people. Only the DMK can weed out caste inequalities,” he would say. “Even if some people don’t like Dravida people (referring to Jayalalithaa, a Brahmin), there will be a time when they realise that they also belong to Dravida sect. Vote for our alliance to let the people live in unity, without inequalities,” he told a gathering.
Each time he invoked his son Stalin’s name in his rallies, things would go out of his control — they would cheer incessantly, interrupting his speech. He would appreciate Stalin’s handiwork and efforts to visit people. “Our Stalin, Mu Ka (as M and K written in Tamil) Stalin, I have given him a hand. You too give him a hand, make his party strong and win the election,” he would say.
In Cuddalore and Mayiladuthurai, he told people about a report he read in the evening daily on his way there. Referring to Jayalalithaa as an ‘acting-Chief Minister’, he said the media report detailed the leisurely lifestyle of her and her corrupt ministers. “They should be sent to prison. Will the Governor take action? Will the Centre look at these allegations?” he asks. “In case you are offered money for the votes by AIADMK, remember that it was the money they looted. She doesn’t know anything other than betraying people,” he would remind people.
Like Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi also identifies himself with the common man. “I am one of your brothers, I am one of your children. I am talking from my heart. Only if Dravida rule comes, Dravida makkal will get a good life,” he would say, adding that he came to visit them not to seekg votes alone, but to bring a change, appealing to vote for DMK-Congress alliance.
In the Thiruvarur rally, his native town, Karunanidhi again took on Jayalalithaa referring to her party with ‘one Amma’ who lives for herself. He would warn people of Jayalalithaa’s desperate efforts to win this election. “Nobody can surpass her in terms of corruption and mistakes she had done. She has taken the law into her hand. Even the judicial values are being challenged under her rule,” he said, “`Our responsibility today is to ensure the fall of a dictator rule,” he would say, demanding a CBI probe into corruption charges against Jayalalithaa.
Meanwhile in Trichy, at one of the largest rallies of any party on April 27, he thanked people for coming all the way from neighbouring districts to attend his meeting. Saying that he trusted the people of Trichy, he played his masterstroke: “Trichy would never betray me,” amidst huge applause from a gathering of nearly one lakh people. In Mayiladuthurai he played the youth card before a rural youth audience. And he ended the speech with a promise of prohibition.
“Youth is the promise of this society, only they can bring a change. Our party is for the power of youth,” he said, and he added: “Once I was also a youth leader, now I am old, past 91. Still I want to serve the people, that is why I am retaining this post.” As his praised the youth, the speech was often interrupted by huge cheers and whistles from a noisy crowd. Leaders were seen asking people to remain silent. “More than a party, the DMK is a social movement…” he would say.
A close aide of Karunanidhi told The Indian Express that Karunanidhi is like Mao in terms of retaining his power in his own style. “He doesn’t want to become a father who made his son a chief minister. He enjoys power. Whenever he talked about this (handing over the power to Stalin), he would say that let him come on his own,” said the aide. Appreciating the patience of Stalin, he said: “Let him (Stalin) wait until nature does something to his father.”