After Jallikattu stir, Marina Beach now battlefield for Tamil Nadu political row2 min read . Updated: 16 Feb 2017, 01:18 AM IST
Jayalalithaa's memorial at Marina Beach in Chennai is being leveraged by the AIADMK factions for politicalmileage
New Delhi/Chennai: It is one of the world’s largest urban beaches, but after hosting massive protests for the bull-taming sport Jallikattu, Marina Beach in Chennai has now become a battlefield for the post of Tamil Nadu chief minister.
It all started with a surprise visit by the caretaker chief minister O. Panneerselvam on 7 February to meditate at the memorial for late chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, after which he declared that he had been “forced" to resign to make way for V.K. Sasikala. “I was forced to quit and Amma’s spirit wants me to reveal the truth. I came here and sat silently in meditation, to search my conscience," he said.
On Tuesday, Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar, another vocal critic of Sasikala joined Panneerselvam’s camp right in front of her aunt’s memorial. And just before departing for prison Wednesday, Sasikala too paid a visit to the memorial on the beach. Last week, Sasikala urged her supporters, “Everyone should take pledge at Amma’s memorial on Marina Beach and then capture the secretariat."
Marina Beach is no stranger to political pilgrimages. It is here that prominent leaders of Dravidian politics—from C.N. Annadurai to M.G. Ramachandran (MGR)—are interred. The beach also boasts of statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Kamraj, and actor Sivaji Ganesan, but all roads right now lead to Jayalalithaa’s memorial—so much so that there seems to be a distinct impression that the ruling party, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), has chosen Jayalalithaa over its founder MGR.
“It’s been a quick conversion, hasn’t it?" said P.K. Datta, a political science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, referring to Amma’s deification where followers such as Sasikala and Panneerselvam communicate with her “spirit" for guidance.
According to Datta, most debates about Indian politicians tend to centre around administration but the recent events throw light on a tradition that “we haven’t thought much of—that of giving a sacred position to political leaders." It is a practice that has made even an agnostic like B.R.Ambedkar into a sacred symbol, according to Datta.
Memorials and statues are meant to consolidate an individual’s political legacy, what they stood for, etc. These are, according to architect K.T. Ravindran, former Dean of the School of Planning and Architecture, designed to celebrate the positive characteristics of the political leader and reinforce their ideology.
When leaders are interred in larger-than life memorials, it also reinforces the party, which would explain the beeline being made by different factions of the AIADMK to Amma’s memorial.
“A memorial helps when there is a huge leadership crisis, especially if there is a huge amount of factionalism. Then you need sacred authority to give yourself legitimacy which you then use to establish leadership," said Datta.
Datta may as well have been describing Jaya’s career trajectory post MGR’s death in 1987 and her near exclusion from political life. Clearly, things have come full circle for the AIADMK.