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A woman walks past a portrait of J. Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, in Chennai March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Babu (INDIA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
A woman walks past a portrait of J. Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, in Chennai March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Babu (INDIA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
Tamil Nadu

Cult, Caste And Cash: What You Must Know About The Heady Cocktail That Fuels Tamil Nadu Politics

Team Lede

Team Lede

J Jayalalithaa, clad in a plain green saree, unadorned but for gold earrings, shrilly proclaims to her enamoured audience – “You all know that I will do what I say. I will also do what I sometimes don’t say. I am your mother. Only a mother knows what is best for her children.” The crowd erupts in applause and catcalls, egging on the charismatic south Indian politician.

Welcome to Tamil Nadu.
The days of cut-outs of leaders like Jayalalithaa, 30 feet tall, larger than life, smiling down benevolently upon the milling masses, may be gone, banished forever by the Madras High Court’s 2008 directive. But her loyal partymen of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have ensured that the cult goddess-like image of their leader and cine star-turned-politician has remained intact. Jayalalithaa, say analysts, has modelled herself on her political mentor, former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran and founder of the party which she now leads. Running the party with an iron hand, Jaya carefully constructs her image of being the supreme leader, a benevolent authoritarian who can lavish her partymen and the people with largesse, but can strike them down ruthlessly too if they cross the line.