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Jayalalitha and Mamata – The Iron Ladies of Indian Politics

mamata-banerjee-and-jayalalitha

The Iron Ladies – Photo Courtesy: Political Mirror

As Jayalalitha’s cortege reached MGR Memorial near Marina Beach in Chennai, the solemnity of the occasion triggered a volley of thoughts in my minds. A panelist on some English news channel casually remarked how similar the struggles of Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee have been and I could not agree more.

Jayalalitha, who ruled the silver screen before taking the political plunge, was the protege of MG Ramachandran, the founder of AIADMK. She was the Propaganda Secretary of the party and went on to become a Rajya Sabha MP in 1984, the same year Mamata Banerjee emerged as a ‘giant-killer’ in Jadavpur, making her way to Lok Sabha.

After MGR’s death, Jayalalitha had to face stiff competition from within her party. Late MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran apparently did not even allow Jayalalitha to attend MGR’s funeral. The party headed for a split with the political future of Jayalalitha under question. AIADMK faced crushing defeat in the 1989 Assembly elections.

Mamata Banerjee’s feud with West Bengal Pradesh Congress is well-known. In the 1990s, the State Congress had virtually turned into a party of watermelons (green on the outside and red on the inside). Some senior leaders colluded with the Left to keep their Delhi ambitions afloat. From the famous ‘Outdoor’ Congress Party meet in 1996 to the subsequent formation of Trinamool, Mamata Banerjee’s struggle followed similar course as Jayalalitha’s.

Both Didi and Amma battled it out in a man’s world. With grit, determination and strong will-power they held on to their forte of mass appeal and galvanised the cadre and won the trust of the people. While Jayalalitha rode to power in 1991 as Tamil Nadu’s first female CM, Didi swept the polls in Bengal two decades later.

Even as the administrative heads of their respective States, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha pursued similar policies. Inclusive governance through social empowerment seems to have been their guiding force. From fair price medicine shops to fair price vegetable stores, subsidised food to affordable healthcare, both the leaders have worked for the masses. In fact, despite the ‘populism’ economies of both Tamil Nadu and Bengal have prospered under the leaderships of Jayalalitha and Mamata, respectively.

There are very few mass leaders in India who command the love and respect of millions of people. The outpouring of grief and the sea of humanity at Marina Beach today is a testimony of Amma’s popularity. And Didi’s charismatic popularity can easily be gauged during her district visits, or from the massive turnout on annual 21 July rallies in the heart of Kolkata. Interestingly, the support of women forms a big pillar behind the success of both these leaders.

With Jayalalitha in heavenly abode now, the future of India rests on the Tigress of Bengal, specially in these tumultuous times. The days to come will determine how posterity scripts the history of the times we call the present Indian political scene.

Mulla Periyar – Life be DAMned

Water, water everywhere. Not a drop to share! As human civilization progresses, natural resources face the challenge of extinction. Geographical borders now decide the fate of bounties that should belong to the biosphere as a whole. Sizable majority of God’s own country  fear extinction now, thanks to a century old dam which has developed cracks. So, why not rebuild and renovate the existing structure to save lives? Well, Mullaperiyar faces test of political waters.

Mullaperiyar Dam, constructed more than a century ago has been a center of debate for over two decades now. Although, the bigger beneficiary of this dam has always been the state of Tamil Nadu, complaints of insufficient water being released by its neighbour have surfaced before too. Built in Kerala, on the river Mullayar and its tributary Periyar, water is mostly diverted from this 136 feet dam eastwards to Tamil Nadu.

Courtesy Jamewils dot blogsport dot com

A Supreme Court order in 2006 instructed Govt of Kerala to raise the height of the dam to 142feet, which was overridden  by the legislature by bringing in a law. Govt of Tamil Nadu challenged this in court and the matter is subjudice currently. The debate currently is not about the volume of water to be shared or the storage capacity of the dam. It is about safety of 3.5 million Keralites who live downstream of the dam site.

Govt of Tamil Nadu’s banning the film DAM999 clearly shows how jittery the state is on this issue. The Chief Minister’s claim “the dam is as good as new” met with uproar on social media platforms – reports of cracks developing in the dam, how water has been gushing out of those cracks and also pictures and videos showing the pitiable state of the dam site have been floating on wires for long.

Studies done by IIT Delhi, IIT Roorkee and IISc Bangalore have projected the vulnerability of the people of Kerala from the “hydrologically unsafe” dam. Tamil Nadu fought those claims with its own government engineers claiming the dam is safe and sound. Clearly, waters of Periyar have been polluted by politics.

TN and Kerala CM

Courtesy The Hindu

Leaders, known for their knack of fishing in troubled waters have already began their job. While both state governments have been attending Delhi durbar to make the Central govt party to their cause, local politicians have already observed a day of Hartal for the cause. Ethnic politics have started too, brazenly demonstrated by ban on Tamil Nadu bound buses from Kerala, in several parts of TN. And while state MPs and MLAs are busy voicing their support to the cause of their state, national parties like BJP and their supporters have been accusing people of making a mountain out of molehill.

Amidst all these, Mullaperiyar was increasingly shaken by earthquakes in the last 22 months, rousing fear among people even more. That the ongoing “movement” was not to malign the state of Tamil Nadu or deny it of its share of water, is clearly demonstrated by the slogan “Water for Tamil Nadu, Safety for Kerala”. Why then is the Chief Minister of TN not willing to send out a message of conciliation and humanity to people on the other side of the border? After all, they are citizens of the same nation.

Or is it easy to sacrifice millions of lives for staying in power? Life be DAMned, God knows the answer.

 

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