Why only Modi, why not Amma?

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Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi greets Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa during his oath taking ceremony at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad. Photo PTI
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi greets Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa during his oath taking ceremony at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad. Photo PTI

As  calibrated attempts to project Narendra Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial mascot are in full swing, the ‘national’ media is yet to wake up to the possibility of a powerful leader down South being a contender for the crown. In the last few months, talk of a ‘dhoti clad’ PM from the South had been mooted at a literary function attended by politicians and film stars in Chennai; and later picked up and flogged in newspaper columns and on the social media. How about a ‘sari clad’ PM, South of the Vindhyas? Jayalalithaa has already made it clear that she would not have any trucks with either the Congress or the BJP. In the context of a third front, as an alternative to the Congress and BJP led alliances, the possibility of Modi’s good friend and the most powerful lady in Tamil Nadu – Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, emerging not just as a king maker but the queen herself in 2014 cannot be ruled out in India’s ever fluid political scenario. After HD Deve Gowda, who had a short stint as PM in the late nineties, and the late veteran Tamil Nadu Congress leader GK Moopanar who missed the bus with the United Front government, if Amma’s stars shine as they did in 2011, who knows, she may no longer have to send the State’s periodic ‘To Do’ lists to 7 Race Course Road but be able to address them herself!

A fractured mandate next year, or earlier, will make every small party and every seat count. If Jayalalithaa can solve her inherited power shortage to make her free mixies and grinders and laptops run in the next few months, a predicted score card of 30 seats may not be out of reach for the AIADMK. That will give her a huge bargaining chip and the gravitas to cobble together a coalition of like minded parties for a serious shot at Delhi’s corridors of power. Having supported political alliances in the past and even pulling down one of them, the lady from Poes Garden has ‘been there, done that’. Now it’s just a question of taking her clout at the Centre to the next level. I was among the first few journalists in the country to directly broach the subject of a Prime Ministerial inclination with Amma, a few years ago. Her repartee: “No comments. But thank you for the compliment” was interesting. Here’s why I think she will make a good PM.

1.   Jayalalithaa’s leadership qualities and acceptance among possible constituents of a third front is her biggest plus point. We’ve seen many leaders – from Chandrababu Naidu to Left bigwigs descend at her residence to announce Dr Abdul Kalam as their nominee for a second innings at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the previous election. Last year, she was first off the block in mooting the name of former Lok Sabha Speaker and tribal leader PA Sangma as the NDA backed Presidential nominee, with even BJP patriarch LK Advani  holding discussions with her at Fort St.George.

2.   With friends across the political divide, forming a durable coalition and keeping the flock together may not be a tall order. With her excellent rapport with Samajwadi Party leader and UP CM Akhilesh Yadav and Left leaders like Prakash Karat, coupled with the TINA factor for other parties, perhaps even the Trinamool supremo – Mamata Didi may well accept Amma at the helm. A proven capacity to unite non Congress Chief Ministers over common grievances with the Centre is indicative of her hold over ruling parties in other States.

3.    Much as she is called an ‘Iron Lady’, Jayalalithaa is known to have an amazing ability to convert her staunch critics and foes into lasting friends. I can never forget MDMK Chief Vaiko who was jailed by her under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) for 18 months thundering outside the Vellore Prison on his release that he would fight the “fascist regime”. A few months later, he joined hands with Amma and remarked, “This is the finest moment in Tamil Nadu’s political history!” Even after boycotting the 2011 assembly poll because he felt short changed in seat allocation, Vaiko still regards Jayalalithaa as his sister.

4.   By Indian political standards, 65 year old Jayalalithaa is relatively young. As a powerful regional leader with a brute majority in the Tamil Nadu assembly and her unassailable sway over her own party, she does not have to worry about internal squabbles that have haunted many Prime Ministers.

5.   A tough and no nonsense approach to governance is what anyone who knows the State well will vouch for. Not afraid of cracking the whip – be it the elimination of the long pending Veerappan menace or the sacking of over a lakh government employees in her previous tenure or the recent handling of the anti Koodankulam protestors, soft pedalling is not an expression in Amma’s lexicon.

6.   The ‘iron hand’ can also come with a velvet glove. Jayalalithaa seems to have mastered the art of populism (a term she doesn’t quite like, preferring to call it ‘welfare’ instead). Despite a debt of one lakh crore, she adroitly managed to start fulfilling her 2011 freebie election manifesto. In her third innings, she has demonstrated a willingness to reach out to various sections – minorities, caste groups and most importantly the poor. The ‘Amma Canteens’ that serve wholesome food at one rupee and\or a few rupees are a super hit, bigger than a Rajini blockbuster! With the same formula, placating States and allies when in the saddle, should be child’s play.

7.   An unbiased observer will not fail to notice Jayalalithaa’s national outlook – whether it’s her firm stand against terror and on maintaining law and order or her  environmental policy or the pro nuclear energy stance, after doing her due diligence. Championing the cause of Tamils in Sri Lanka and her strong views on tackling terror, even in a possible Pakistan context, may augur well for a firm foreign policy.

8.  ‘Tell me who your key officers are and I will tell you if you are a good leader’ can be the new age dictum in governance. Jayalalithaa’s choice of officers has always been spot on. Ask any retired bureaucrat who has served under her (if you think the serving ones will be biased in her favour) and they will fill you in with instances and concrete examples of her administrative acumen and her grasp over complex issues. Choosing a balanced Cabinet is crucial. Amma will pass that test.

9.   The convent educated heroine turned political leader is suave, articulate and charming enough to even floor international dignitaries like Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton. Coming from the film industry, her communication skills are among the best in India’s political landscape. This was evident even during her Rajya Sabha years.

10. You can judge a leader’s intellectual prowess by her or his press statements and conferences. Jayalalithaa’s knowledge of national and international affairs, economics and even law (her lawyers tell me that she is so clued in with even all the latest Supreme Court judgments) is impressive. A leader in the hot seat needs to understand the nitty gritty of a wide range of subjects. Not wanting in this department either.

I’ve been a neutral political commentator all my life and will remain that way. But I don’t believe in denying anyone their due, even if it comes across as slanted. Jayalalithaa has it in her to aspire for the top job. She will, however, need to focus on the challenging task of suffering fools gladly and taking criticism, even if it’s not the constructive variety, in her stride. And yes, the outcome of the wealth case in a Bangalore Court will be crucial for the Chennai Super Queen to strike gold in national politics.

(Sanjay Pinto is a lawyer, columnist and former Resident Editor of NDTV)

21 COMMENTS

  1. Very realistic and unbiased assessment. She is an astute administrator and has phenomenol memory. Her grasp of issues at stake is quick and her discussion with officials incisive forcing them to prepare well to reply to her supplementary questions. Her decisions are  bold and timely and she stands like a rock to support bonafide  actions of her officers . She follows up effective implementation of decisions which is most crucial in governance. A linguist ,facile in all south Indian languages and national language Hindi, she would ,undoubtedly be the most acceptable National leader 

  2. All the three Amma’s Jaya,Mamata and Maya are the symbols and epitome of Arrogance.We have seen Jaya playing the communal card recently in film actor Kamalhasan’s Vishwaroopam episode.Cho Ramasamy is her mentor,advisor and Cho is a staunch supporter of the Indian Fuhrer Narendra Modi.
    Amma will definitely support Modi as there are no chances for the revival of third front.Hopefully Tamilnadu Muslim community are matured enough that they are aware of Amma’s gimmicks and will vote against her.

  3. If you do not know, it was Modi who gave timely info and advice to Amma about the imminent revolt against her. This allowed her to save herself and take action against traitors in her party. ThoughCongress and i’s paid chamchas don’t understand the value of Good Firends, I am sure Jayalalitha know and values it.

  4. We watch Jaya TV – the only minister we know in tamil nadu is Amma. When we watch the news we get a feeling that it is only one minister and there is no second level leader being allowed to grow in the party. She has all good points but her admancy as the other two ladies -Maya Mamta – cancel out all other good qualities. If only she was logical and hearing others views but taking a decision on her own, she could easily be the best Prime Minister of India.

  5. I think Sanjay is exaggerating. Jaya is no comparison to Modi. Modi had won 3 straight elections in a row (2002, 2007, 2012) based on performance. Even Congress CM Sheela had done the trick and MP CM. Whereas Jaya has won only on anti-incumbency. She won in 1991 (people point Rajiv death was a factor) and lost in 1996. Again she won in 2001, but lost in 2006. Again she won 2011. In between she lost 2004 parliament elections. Never in her political career she won based on performance. Whenever bye-elections happen, Modi does not campaign (recently 2 Lok Sabha elections were held, Modi did not even campaign, but won), but Amma sends her Ministerial teams for months (Sankarankovil, Trichy etc…). Modi is good in both Law and Order and Economics. Jaya administers only Law & Order. Even after 2 years in power, Tamil Nadu (except for Chennai) reels under 8 hour power cut. She can join Modi and think of Deputy PM and handle portfolios like Defence, Home. BJP needs a strong support from South. Thats about it..I think the best CMs are Modi, Nitish Kuma, Shivraj Chauhan. Forget about PM. Jaya is not even in the best CM list.

  6. Talking about choosing best administrators. She usually chooses very good IAS officers. Pinto is right. But her Minister choices are very poor. She chose a person who failed in 6th grade, but lied as if he had passed BA as her IT Minister. Recently she nominated a Rajya Sabha candidate named Saravana Perumal but backed off. Reason: He was arrested in relation to smuggling and was in Rowdy list. Good that she dropped Saravana Perumal, but why did she choose someone with his background. After all, like Sanjay says she has been running her party for the past 25 years. Even after being in party helm, she can’t choose a proper RS candidate. I question Sanjay’s neutrality in this article. She is good in certain areas. Tehelka should not allow cheap political campaign here.

  7. The best CM Tamil Nadu had when Kamaraj was CM. Anna was there 2 years, could not assess. If I rank best to worst 1. Kamaraj 2. MGR 3. Karunanithi 4. Jayalalitha. During Kamarajar period TN saw the best growth. Most of the dams were built during his time. Rural Electrification happened during his period (Now we have power cut). He opened Rural schools, and shut Liquor shops. Both Karunanithi and Jaya privatized education (TN has 500 Engg colleges) and opened Liquor shops all over TN. Kamarajar brought major industries like BHEL (Trichy), Railway Coach Factory (Perambalur), IIT Chennai to TN. His team was the best. C Subramanian (Finance Minister, who became Union FM and Agricultural Minister), R Venkatraman (Industry Minister, who became President of India). Can you name any best performing Minister in Karunanithi and Jaya Govt. Sanjay Pinto should take a break from his writing…

  8. This is all well and good, but by virtue of being corrupt and seemingly vengeful, she is automatically disqualified. India deserves a stateswoman as its PM and not just a clever politician.

  9. Aise buddhu journalists bhi hote hain India me….MODI IS ASHOKA THE GREAT……CHANAKYA….Jaylalita is just LOCAL GUNDI,;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

  10. Regardless of BJP’s alliance with AIADMK or DMK or even VIjaykanth party, Modi is likely to bring 10% to kitty. Modi is popular in Urban areas. If BJP allies with AIADMK, alliance will win 35+ seats. If BJP allies with Vijayakanth, this combination may win upto 10 seats, splitting AIADMK vote share. Cutting across party lines, Modi is popular among youths.

  11. This author is yet another of those
    hacks who is hell bent on creating a confusion. Bit it won’t work. that is for sure. Isn’t he on NDTV also?

    • Your query shows that you haven’t opened your eyes and read the whole article. See the last line. It may remove some of your “confusion”.

  12. WHY NOT MULAYAM WHY NOT MAYAWATI WHY NOT ADVANI WHY NOT NITISH WHY NOT PAWAR JOURNALIST ARE BECOME JOKERS NOW

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