Two Years Since Jayalalithaa: Two Leaves in Search of a Custodian
Two leaves in search for a custodian two years after ‘Amma’.
Two leaves in search for a custodian two years after ‘Amma’.(Photo: The Quint)

Two Years Since Jayalalithaa: Two Leaves in Search of a Custodian

A statue of the late MG Ramachandran, founder of the AIADMK, waving a victory sign welcomes you to Edayanchavadi village in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu.

Sixty-two-year-old Pachayammal, who lives near the statue, narrates that MGR had once shot for a film here and since he launched the AIADMK in 1972, the party has been the most powerful political force in Edayanchavadi.

The statue, she says, is a testimony of the electoral power and loyalty that the ‘Rettai Ilai’ (two leaves) symbol commands in the village, which has a population of around 3,000 residents, three decades after he passed away.

Also Read : Sasikala ‘Fed Slow Poison’ to Jayalalithaa, Says AIADMK Minister

‘Vote Will Always Be With The Two Leaves Symbol’

Thirty-three-year-old V Suresh comes from a family of AIADMK supporters and standing before the MGR statue he says, “There may be chaos in the party after Amma passed away and there may be many factions, but my heart and vote will always be with the two leaves symbol.”

V Suresh at the MGR statue in Edayanchavadi.
V Suresh at the MGR statue in Edayanchavadi.
(Photo: TM Veeraraghav)

In more ways than one, the comment captures the core of the AIADMK psyche. It’s a party that revolves around MGR’s legacy and not the late Jayalalithaa’s.

‘Amma’ was certainly the most powerful force, but for all her power and prominence, she was only seen as a custodian of MGR’s party and the two leaves symbol.

“It is not Amma’s creation, it was and is MGR’s katchi (party),” says 62-year-old S Muthuvel, who has always been an MGR fan and an AIADMK supporter since the party came into existence in 1972. He hastens to add, “We loved Amma and miss her leadership dearly. There may never be a leader like her in the party and we do not know who will protect our two leaves.”

Suresh admits that two years after Jayalalithaa passed away there is listlessness in the party. The split between the TTV Dhinakaran faction and the ruling dispensation has resulted in uncertainty. But he is quick to add that no matter how many factions exist rettai Ilai symbol is supreme. The one who gets that symbol will get their loyalty, according to him.

Also Read : The Rise of Amma aka Jayalalitha: India’s ‘Mother’ Politician

Twenty-eight-year-old S Jayagopal, another resident of Edayanchavadi, joins the conversation. He says that while a few lower level leaders have joined Dhinakaran, the cadre is largely with the main party which holds the two leaves symbol.

“It doesn’t matter if its EPS or OPS, those in charge of the symbol will be seen as the main party.”
S Jayagopal
Jayagopal, resident of Edayanchavadi village.
Jayagopal, resident of Edayanchavadi village.
(Photo: TM Veeraraghav)

Any assessment of the electoral power of AIADMK factions, and its life after Jayalalithaa, will have to take into account Jayagopal’s comments seriously. The symbol is the core of the party identity and without it no leader, no matter how efficient, can capture the party’s core vote base.

And, two years after she passed away, the quest in the party is not for an heir to the ‘Amma’ legacy, but for a new custodian of the two leaves symbol.

Also Read : EPS Faction Shares CD from 2011: Jayalalitha Criticises Sasikala

‘Focus on Keeping the Emotion Alive, Not on Amma Personality’

In fact, in the absence of Jayalalithaa, the cadre seems to rely more on the party as an identity to keep the emotion alive and not on the Amma’ personality.

For instance, M Chakrapani is the sitting MLA from the Vanur (SC) constituency in which Edayanchavadi is located. The AIADMK has won this seat in the last four elections and Chakrapani won it under Jayalalithaa's leadership in 2016.

At his office, he proudly shows a tattoo of the two leaves symbol in his forearm and says, “This shows where our loyalty is. Amma was our great leader and we miss her, but it is the party symbol that will go with me to the grave."

M Chakrapani MLA showing his two leaves tattoo.
M Chakrapani MLA showing his two leaves tattoo.
(Photo: TM Veeraraghav)
Does this mean that the ruling faction led by Chief Minister E Palaniswamy – which holds the two leaves symbol – has complete control of the party?

The answer is not certain. The ruling faction is surviving because it holds the symbol, but is seen as one which does not have a leader of charisma and credibility worthy of it. Its control over the symbol is fragile.

Also Read : ‘AMMK’ Launch: Dhinakaran Names Political Party After Jayalalithaa

Can the TTV Dhinakaran Faction Gain Control of It?

While the nephew of Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala is seen as a strong leader, his faction does have a trust deficit with the cadre.

In the party narrative, Sasikala, who is serving time in prison after being convicted on corruption charges along with Jayalalithaa, is often blamed for corruption allegations against Amma’.

This, along with allegations that the family did not take care of Jayalalithaa’s health during her last days, is a major impediment for TTV Dhinakaran to strike an emotional chord with the loyalists. These are deep and powerful factors in a party that runs high on emotion and less on ideology.

So, Where Does This Leave the Core AIADMK Voter and the Two Leaves Symbol?

In the absence of a credible and clear leadership there is bound to be a depletion of the core vote base of the party. But, what is not clear is how much and to whom these votes will shift.

In most cases, loyalists argue, with a heavy heart, that they may gravitate on the basis of caste allegiance and local candidates.

Also Read : Dhinakaran Camp Is in a ‘Confused State of Mind’: AIADMK

This may be more pronounced if and when new parties like the one launched by actor Kamal Haasan and the one possibly by actor Rajinikanth gain credibility. But an important point here is that there are very few among the AIADMK core voters who even consider the DMK as an option.

Division between these two parties has been deep and often an emotional one. This is not just at a leadership level, but transcends to the cadre level.  Hence, despite the absence of a powerful leader like Jayalalithaa and the party being in chaos, the core AIADMK voters will only search for a new force that can counter the DMK and not gravitate towards the grand old Dravidian party.

In more ways than one, two years after her demise, life after Jayalalithaa remains a puzzle for the AIADMK loyalist.

To them, the future of the two leaves is not just a political or electoral issue, but an emotional one which defines their identity in a rural society.

(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

Also Read : AIADMK offers olive branch to Dhinakaran loyalists

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