Incredible parallels in the journeys of MGR and Jayalalithaa
The health condition of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa continues to cause anxiety to millions of her followers in her state and outside of it. Even as an activist sought Madras High Court’s intervention to get a true picture, observers of Dravidian politics draw a parallel between Amma and her mentor former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran as far as disclosure of their medical condition and political careers were concerned.
Medical bulletins issued by Apollo Hospital in Chennai where Jayalalithaa is being treated are vague and incredible. During prolonged illness of MGR in 1984, information shared with public was also scarce.
MGR was also admitted to the same Apollo Hospital where his protégé Jayalalithaa is now battling for life. The parallels are stronger than mere calendrical coincidences.
MGR was diabetic and had a kidney failure at the age of 68, about the same age as Jayalalithaa is now. After initial treatment, MGR was taken to Brooklyn Hospital, New York, for treatment. Around the same time after Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984, Rajiv Gandhi announced snap polls a few months ahead of schedule. MGR’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) was in alliance with the Congress.
In those pre-satellite channel days, though media had a great prestige, it could easily be regulated by the government. During his treatment days little information about his health condition was revealed publicly. Similar press releases were released periodically without much credible information. MGR’s erstwhile friend turned sworn political enemy M. Karunanidhi called information released as ‘blatant lies of universal proportions’.
Access to MGR and his wife, Janaki Ramachandran was controlled by his ministers and the Congress was a willing ally. MGR’s nomination papers for the Andipatti constituency were filed from his hospital bed in the US. Indira’s assassination and MGR’s ill-health formed an unbeatable combination and AIADMAK and Congress alliance swept the polls. Miraculously MGR recovered and months later, he was sworn in as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
MGR ruled the state for three years until his death on December 24, 1987. During those days, Jayalalithaa was side-lined and matters reached their nadir when she was pushed from the gun carriage hearse at MGR’s funeral.
After MGR’s death, the Congress desperately tried to shore up its fortunes. In the January 1989 elections, people confirmed Jayalalithaa’s claim to MGR mantle and exposed Congress’s limitations. But, in a bid to emerge as a leader in her own right, she did everything to erase MGR – invoking his name only in crises.
Jayalalithaa managed to widen the AIADMK’s vote bank through populist schemes. Jayalalithaa’s ill health for the past few years have made her recent election campaigns lacklustre and her public appearances are stage- managed to give a modicum of normalcy.
If reliable reports were scarce in 1984, paradoxically, in the face of a phenomenal media glut, information now seems to be in even shorter supply. Apollo’s medical bulletins will not convince anyone, not even a school boy. That even ministers of the central cabinet and the governor of the state have not actually met her only confirms the hold of Jayalalithaa’s friend, Sasikala, and her extended family.
The government remains inactive, and no one can dare even say an acting chief minister should hold the power. At present, the BJP at the centre is as soft as the Congress was during MGR’s times, avoiding from calling the state government to account. People started questioning, if the union government is not failing in its constitutional duties.
In a post-MGR scenario, Congress was hoping to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu. The BJP is in a similar position now.