The reception that AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa received in Chennai on her return from Bangalore was not that of somebody who went to jail over corruption charges, but that of somebody who had won a battle against evil forces.
In a rain-drenched Chennai, people were delirious. After 20 days of mourning and prayers, they danced on the streets, burst crackers and distributed sweets. They also abused political rivals such as DMK supremo M Karunanidhi. They repeated what Jayalalithaa had maintained — that the disproportionate assets case which led to her conviction was a false case foisted on her for political reasons.
Among the people who welcomed her back was none other than Tamil superstar Rajinikanth.
“I am very glad to have you back in Poes Garden. Praying for good times for you. Always wishing you well for good health and peace,” had said the actor in a letter to the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
Perhaps after seeing the jubilation on the streets and public mood, Karunanidhi chose to be mellow. He said he was neither happy (that she went to jail) nor sad (that she got bail). He also said that it was not his government, but Subramanian Swamy who went to court. His government had only followed the court’s order to investigate Swamy’s complaint.
On her part, Jaya also magnified her victory against the present adversity. She seized the opportunity to reinforce her legend of benevolence that her supporters were celebrating on the streets, when she said the well-being of the people of Tamil Nadu was her prime goal and the “challenges, grief and pain” that she faced in the process didn’t matter to her.
“God has given me the maturity to take such pains in my stride,” she added. She further said that her “public life amounts to swimming in a sea of inferno. As your dear sister, I have realized the perils of dedicating oneself for the cause of public welfare from the day I entered politics.” In short, without mincing words, she told them that she went to jail for them, in their service.
After being slightly circumspect initially, opposition parties such as DMK and PMK were quick to write her off politically when she failed to obtain a bail in the Karnataka high court.
“Jayalalithaa’s comeback to power can only be a dream. It would never be fulfilled,” Karunanidhi had reportedly said at his party secretaries’ meeting in Chennai. PMK President S Ramadoss had wanted Jaya’s pictures removed from government offices, official websites and school books. He also said that it was the end of her political career.
The general response to her release from jail, including from people such as Rajinikanth, or even Karunanidhi, is a clear indication of the public mood, which is far from adverse. With a string of social welfare measures targeting the poor, she was at the peak of popularity when she went to jail. The jail term has added an extra layer of invincibility to her, which will make her even more popular.
Had she be in jail, it would have been really tough for chief minister Panneerselvam and her band of senior officials in Chennai to run the government because communicating with her would have been difficult. Ruling a state like Tamil Nadu from a jail in another state is impossible.
The only viable option could have been Jaya giving broad policy guidance to Panneerselvam and others, and empowering them to take decisions on their own; but such a situation could never exist, not just in AIADMK, but in none of the parties in Tamil Nadu.
A lot, however, rides on the verdict of the Karnataka high court. If the special court’s judgement is upheld, it will be difficult times again in about six months. The final verdict, after exhausting all legal avenues, will be crucial because her presence is certainly needed for the assembly elections which will be due in less than two years.
Jaya’s priority now will be to push forward with her welfare policies and the overall development of the state. Compared to her previous terms, she has focused on social protection and welfare of people this time and all her schemes have been runaway hits.
She too has high profile vision documents towards the modernization of the state and sectors such as energy that need serious attention.
It’s certainly good for the party and the government that she is out of jail, but the coming months will be tough because she will have to devote time for the government as well as her case.