Jayalalithaa makes a mark on chess (too)

The lure of being associated with a popular sport is difficult to ignore for any political leader

Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. Photo: HT
Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. Photo: HT

On Thursday, readers woke up to full page ads in several national dailies on the launch of FIDE World Championship 2013, featuring Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, who is fancied to win, and non-resident local prodigy-turned champion Viswanathan Anand. Only, Anand and Carlsen were relegated to an almost insignificant position at the bottom of the page. Looming over them, in the ad, like her cut-outs do across Chennai’s landscape, is Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa.

I don’t know if the lady plays chess—she definitely strikes me as being intelligent enough to do so, apart from being perhaps the most articulate politician around, with the possible exception of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Arun Jaitley—but this isn’t about that at all.

The ads were taken out by the state government’s publicity department, and ads taken out by the publicity departments of state and central governments usually display the visage of a senior political leader or two irrespective of whether the leader in question wants to be on the ad or not—it is just part of the obsequiousness and sycophancy that characterizes politics in India.

The lure of being associated with popular sport—and chess is popular in Chennai, especially if it is anything like the Madras I grew up in was—is difficult to ignore for any political leader. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, for instance, wants a piece of the action surrounding Sachin Tendulkar’s penultimate cricket Test match that is being played in Kolkata.

That Test match has taken some of the sheen away from the chess tournament which, I am told, has received substantial support from the state government.

Chess needs all the support it can get, which is one reason why Carlsen’s win, if he does manage to win, will mean a lot for the sport—he is widely seen as being more marketable than Anand, and is also much younger. As an aside, it is interesting that Anand, once a young genius taking on much older Russian masters, finds himself on the other side of the equation now (ah unkind Time!).

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