Jayalalitha: The photograph ‘ruling’ an Indian state
How is ailing Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalitha still ruling the southern Indian state?
She has been in hospital since 22 September, and anxiety about her health has grown in the absence of clear information about her condition.
Her party, the AIADMK, which forms the state government, recently announced that she had transferred all her portfolios to her deputy O.Panneerselvam, who has stood in for her in the past. However, it was made very clear that she would remain chief minister.
So how then does her cabinet meet in her absence?
They seem to have found a neat workaround – a photograph. An official picture released by the state government shows Mr Panneerselvam at a cabinet meeting with a framed photograph of Ms Jayalalitha prominently placed before him. And it’s not just cabinet meetings that the photograph is attending. It is also present at review meetings of several ministries.
Mr Panneerselvam stood in for the chief minister on two occasions while she was in jail on corruption charges, but he has always taken great pains to show he is not replacing her.
He made it a point to never sit on her chair, because he felt she still “occupied” it. He preferred, instead, to conduct his meetings while sitting on a chair at the other end of the table.
But the photograph is a new addition.
“Our culture is such. For AIADMK people whenever or whatever we do we will do in the presence of the honourable chief minister’s photograph. Then we feel she is with us. We feel we are making decisions in her presence. There is nothing wrong in keeping her photograph at the cabinet meeting. She is the chief minister,” party spokesperson Saraswathi told BBC Hindi’s Imran Qureshi.
Comedian and actor TM Karthik says this could be one way the state government is responding to the constant clamour for photographs of Ms Jayalalitha as “proof” that she is well.
He says that the next move would be to release her most famous “pictures” – alluding to some of the more celebrated films she has acted in – every Friday.
“Why do they keep the chief’s pictures in their meetings? Well, a picture can speak a thousand words, slightly less than what the real would,” he said.
Not everyone finds the development amusing though.
“This is sycophancy at its worst. I have never seen or heard of anything like this in a cabinet meeting in my career,” political analyst, G Satyamoorty, told BBC Hindi. “What they are saying is that we are sworn into office in the name of Amma and not the Constitution,” he added.
Tamil Nadu’s main opposition party, the DMK, has said the gesture shows the state government feels that “one person is more important than the people of the state”. “It’s certainly degrading to the self-respecting politics of this state but also the ethos of the Constitution of our country,” said Manuraj Shanmugham, a spokesperson for the party.