The Big Story: Too soon

Tamil Nadu leader J Jayalalithaa died on December 5 after a prolonged stay at the hospital. As with any popular leader’s death, her followers have given her an emotional farewell and there are attempts, as one All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam spokesperson put it, to “immortalise” the legacy of the departed chief minister. These include a memorial for Jayalalithaa at a cost of Rs 15 crore and, keeping in line with the Dravidian tradition, the possibility of installing her statues across the state.

But a more important demand has come formally from the state government. On Saturday, the Tamil Nadu Cabinet decided to recommend that the Centre posthumously award Jayalalithaa a Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award. This isn’t without precedent. In 1987, when Jayalalithaa’s political mentor MG Ramachandran died, the Rajiv Gandhi government promptly bestowed the highest civilian award on the iconic leader. This move was heavily criticised in some quarters as at that time, even Dr BR Ambedkar, the father of the Constitution, had not been given a Bharat Ratna.

In the case of Jayalalithaa, there is an even stronger case to withhold the award than there was for MGR. There are no doubts about Jayalalithaa’s popularity, as well as her welfare record in Tamil Nadu. However, Jayalalithaa was also accused of authoritarian functioning and corruption. In September 2014, a trial court in Bengaluru sentenced her to four years imprisonment in a disproportionate wealth case dating back to 1996. Though overturned later by the Karnataka High Court, the case is still pending before the Supreme Court, which reserved its judgment in June.

While the charges against Jayalalithaa abated the moment she died, this wealth case is a peculiar one given the emerging political context in Tamil Nadu. Among the accused in the case is Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala Natarajan, who looks all set to take over as the new general secretary of the AIADMK in the coming weeks. In a carefully orchestrated political move, senior party leaders were made to plead with her to assume the position.

A conviction of the co-accused would certainly have an impact on Jayalalithaa’s legacy as well. This is because for crimes under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the public servant is assumed to be the main conspirator for their misusing official position.

A Bharat Ratna for Jayalalithaa, at this stage, could end up putting the Supreme Court in the difficult position of judging a case involving a person bestowed India’s highest civilian award. . Waiting for the final verdict would also make the award for Jayalalithaa more convincing in the eyes of the people and protect its reputation.

The Big Scroll: on the day’s biggest story

  • Sruthisagar Yamunan explains what’s likely to happen in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam following Jayalalithaa’s death: A wait-and-watch policy, as Stalin slowly continues to rise.
  • Jayalalithaa championed the cause of women in Tamil Nadu, but, Vinita Govindarajan asks, did she empower them?
  • If you haven’t read it yet, here is Sruthisagar Yamunan’s comprehensive obituary of Jayalalithaa, a woman with a complex legacy. 

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  1. If we fail to re-examine our Parliamentary systems and processes, writes Chaksu Roy in the Indian Express, the world’s largest democracy will be left with a hollow institution.
  2. “The ongoing demonetisation is a throwback to the worst forms of economic planning,” writes Srinath Raghavan in Mint. 
  3. Narayan Lakshman, writing in the Hindu, doesn’t believe that the death of J Jayalalithaa and the age of M Karunanidhi should signal the death knell of Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu.
  4. “Given our Modi-fied present and a future where political babalog are routed by juggernaut babas, the liberal-Left in India had better embrace populism, instead of disdaining it,” writes Mukul Kesavan in the Telegraph. 


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