Women shrieked and fainted as their ‘Amma’ and ‘supreme leader’ was lowered in the ground. On Marina beach, the ocean churned and the wind howled as if to show solidarity with the grieving sea of humanity that had turned up to say ‘farewell’. Even the 21 gun salute could not drown out these sounds.
Those that were still lucid enough to speak up and voice their opinions had this to say:
“So regret the fact that Madam Jayalalithaa could not complete her five years term after being re elected with such a thumping majority. I feel cheated! She would have done wonders for the state in this term. She has already done so much for the development of Tamil Nadu and its people” said a young woman standing patiently in the queue for a last ‘darshan’ of Amma.
“If you look at Amma’s record, no leader world over has done so much for the welfare of people. She comes first, then Modiji and then Mr. Trump of USA” said an elderly man.
You have to grant Amma this. Probably no other state in India had so many ‘give aways’ for common people.
A wet grinding stone, to grind idli/dosa batter to every household of the state. (This was to reduce a woman’s work load who had to grind this batter physically in a stone pestle – Tamil people do not believe in doing it in a modern mixer-grinder.)
At a daughter’s wedding – strictly after she completes 18 years of age – enough gold for her ‘thali’ or mangalsutra.
The cradle scheme – That she began in her very first term as C.M. when probably female infanticide was most rampant all over the country. She advised women to place their ‘unwanted babies’ in cradles outside government orphanages where the state would look after them and give them for adoption. This scheme continues to date, but there are very few babies left in cradles now.
Amma Unavagam (Amma Canteen): In 2013, Jayalalithaa announced the setting up of a chain of highly-subsidised restaurants across Tamil Nadu. The concept of ‘Amma Canteen’ went on to acquire immense popularity not just in the state, but all across the country as an ideal example of welfare schemes. With prices as low as Rs. 5 for a place of Sambar rice and Rs. 3 for a plate of curd rice, Jayalalithaa’s populist scheme was soon a hit among the poor who could effortlessly eat three meals a day under Rs. 20. Further, the scheme generated employment for a large number of women who were needed for the cooking and cleaning. By 2016, more than 300 such eateries had sprung up all across the state.
Cycles for all girls so that they could go to school easily.
Computers for them after they passed 12th.
Raw rice for poor people @ Rs. one per Kg.
Free cows for farmers.
Amma seeds: With an aim to provide high quality, certified seeds to farmers at affordable prices, Jayalalithaa launched the ‘Amma seeds’ programme in 2014. The project that was executed in January 2016 was allocated a budget of Rs. 5.37 crore. The scheme also encouraged urban citizens to grow vegetables at homes. It involved distribution of kits with required ingredients for vegetable farming at home.
Amma cement: In the wake of a possibility of price rise of building materials, the late chief minister had announced the sale of subsidised cement. The scheme would involve the state government buying two lakh tonnes of cement from private manufacturers every month and selling them for a much lower price of Rs. 190 for a 50-kg bag.
Healthcare initiatives: Expanding her welfare benefit schemes to the health sector, Amma launched a number of healthcare projects. Foremost among them was the master health check-up scheme that involved a number of medical tests like blood, urine, cholesterol screening among many others for a very low rate. She also initiated a health plan which made available several medical facilities free of cost.
There were numerous such schemes which probably made Tamil Nadu the only ‘Welfare state’of the country.
Yet, she did not let industrialization and development suffer. With her attractive ‘packages’ she made Chennai the Automotive manufacturing hub of the nation. Also a thriving Software park, almost on par with Banglore.
It was the revenue that the state earned from such industries that paid for her welfare schemes.
It was just once that she tried out the ‘World Bank’ model of management of the state – and lost elections. She never went ‘West’ again.
She was a quick learner and a survivor. Though she was badly humiliated by male politicians twice in her political career, she never played Victim. She never bemoaned the fact that she was a female in a cut throat men dominated world. She believed in getting even, not getting and staying mad. (Though she did that also very well. Without spelling it out, she never forgave or forgot her tormentors.)
As one journalist attending her funeral today pointed out, she was one rare Indian politician who never played the Caste card. She never publicly spoke about being a Brahman in a Dravidian party.
That is the reason she was not cremated as a Hindu but buried as other leaders of the movement like MGR and Anna Durai before him had been. ( There would have been no ‘pundit’ for her last rites but for the intervention of her ‘friend’ Sasikala and her family.)
A senior government secretary who was part of the funeral preparations of the late chief minister explained why she cannot be cremated on Marina Beach.
“She was not an Iyengar for us,” he said. “She was beyond any caste or religious identity. Even most of all the Dravidian leaders, including Periyar, Anna Durai and MGR, were all buried and we do not have a precedent of consigning their body to flames even after death. So, we bury them with sandalwood and rose water.”
The super efficient way in which Tamil Nadu administration and police managed the large volatile crowds numbering millions demonstrates how superb she was at human resource management.
“Who will be your successor? Why have you not created a second rung of leadership?” One interviewer had asked.
“Let there be a churning which will throw up the person best suited to succeed me” she replied.
Was the turbulent sea echoing her last wish?
—Sunita Mudaliar (Associate Editor)