National

Jayalalithaa: 'The Persona As Politics'

Jayalalithaa, however, does not invoke holiness but represents the awe of inscrutable power. She is more an elemental force than a human being.

Jayalalithaa: 'The Persona As Politics'
info_icon

Jayalalithaa... has a sense of the inscrutable that is part of her power. She reflects no caste or class identity, no feminist force, no modernizing impetus. She is the persona as politics, the personality as pure presence, and therefore looks and feels like a hoarding. She is larger than life, and seems somewhat unreal. She could be a fair and lovely advertisement for the sixty-plus. Jayalalithaa’s isolation and authoritarianism are crucial elements of her mystique. The gates of her Poes Garden house convey that closure, that distance, that space around her which few can enter and only reverentially.

Propped up in the background is the figure of M.G. Ramachandran. MGR was no less than a political god, a semi-divine figure who dominated Tamil politics for ten years. When he died, Jayalalithaa inherited his mantle and his mystique, but with a difference. Her mentor represented the amalgamation of film and politics. The symbolism in his movies was obvious and overt, a wish list of Dravidian emblems. Jayalalithaa’s obvious sociological persona goes beyond party and cinema, to the very roots of folklore. There are stories of MGR drinking Fanta or some other soft drink and the remnants being sprinkled on the audience like holy water. Jayalalithaa, however, does not invoke holiness, but represents the awe of inscrutable power. She is more an elemental force than a human being. When politicians touch her feet, they seem grateful for merely being allowed close to her. She creates her own iconography through distance, isolation and indifference.

info_icon

Unlike her political sisters, Mamata and Mayawati, Jayalalithaa exudes a sense of sexuality. There is, of course, her career as a sexy film heroine playing consort to MGR. Yet Jayalalithaa has transformed sexuality into a new untouchable iconicity, having renounced domesticity for the single-minded pursuit of power. She is that blend of fire and ice: the idea of power as sexuality. But there is also a cold animality to her sense of power. She understands power, especially the symbolic power of violence, the politics of the threat.

Her vengefulness, her authoritarianism adds to her imperious appeal. Power, which is irrational and unpredictable, always appears more potent. An unpredictable, inscrutable, authoritarian goddess needs to be placated more than others. She demands unquestioning obedience. But this goddess contains no sense of spirituality. She does not convey sacredness but the mana, the awesomeness of power, the elemental rawness of power.

For all her goddess-like mystique, Jayalalithaa reeks of the modern, and understands governance. She likes the populism that votes her in but not a popular will that can defy her. She reveals the way in which democracy as a cult becomes doubly dangerous: first as populism, second as authoritarianism without feedback. How democracy produces such oxymoronic figures is one of its mysteries.

(Excerpted from Theatres of Democracy, selected essays by Shiv Visvanathan, ed. Chandan Gowda)

Tags

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement