The One Woman Show

About T. R. Gopalakrishnan

T. R. Gopalakrishnan is the Editor-in-Charge for The Week magazine, a weekly news magazine published by Malayala Manorama group. He is based out of Cochin.

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At the end of a four-hour campaign drive across two constituencies with Jayalalitha in her convoy, the dominant thought was: if this is her style when out of power, what must it be like when she is in power. It was an awesome display of authority and arrogance. And caught humiliatingly in its web was the Congress.

The procedure was simple.

The convoy halts at predetermined spots. Amma then speaks, her words broadcast through loudspeakers fitted on her van. All this while, the candidate she is campaigning for—in

this case two from the Congress, one of them a former Union minister—must stand with folded hands. Once the short speech is over, off the convoy zooms to the next roadside meeting point.

The whole system was meticulously organised.

Obviously, everyone concerned had a lot of practice. The convoy had the pilot and police jeep in front, and the camera crew of her own channel Jaya TV. Then came her personal van in which only her friend, Sashikala was permitted. Behind this van was the car carrying the Black Cats. Then an open jeep carrying the candidate of that area. Next to it another jeep bristling with speakers and mikes to rebroadcast Amma’s speech from the van. Then a spare van, in case the one she travelled in broke down. Then two Swaraj Mazda vans, apparently luxuriously done up on the inside, described as rest vehicles during long drives. Then the vehicle in which I was travelling, which happened to be the refreshment van, carrying sustenance for all the other vans besides a few party workers. A media coordinator was there to allot journalists their cars. Behind us were one or two cars carrying media people and photographers from local papers. And behind that a number of cars depending on how many party workers decided to join the convoy.

Every time the convoy stopped, all of us media people would run to the front to get a glimpse of the crowd and hear her speech. Since the roadside speeches rarely lasted more than four minutes, by the time one got to the front, it was time to rush back to the car. If you didn’t get on, you would be left behind.

Travelling at 60-70 km/hr, it was a crazy ride, with the convoy having absolute right of way.

Every stop drew people like a magnet. Women particularly rushed ahead, though they seemed more captivated by Jayalalitha’s rosy complexion than her speech. There was normally a public meeting at the end ‘in a major town’. The one I attended was in Vellore, by Jayalalitha’s entourage.

The biggest crime anyone in the AIADMK, or among her allies, could commit was trying to share the spotlight with Amma. The hierarchy and protocol were extremely rigid—any party-man violated it at his own peril. Apparently there was a time when no one was even allowed to sit while she was speaking, though that was relaxed later. It was Jayalalitha, and onlyv Jayalalitha, all the way.

At the public meeting venue, as Jayalalitha took her place at the podium, to her left and just behind her mutely stood the Congress candidate with folded hands. Jayalalitha insisted that the candidate remained in that posture throughout her speech, in that case about 20 minutes. Immediately behind her were three personal attendants wearing track suits and one young boy whose job was to place fresh handkerchiefs by her hand every two or three minutes. The only people seated on the dais were three local party functionaries, who were not permitted to cross their legs.

Not once during her speech was the candidate’s name mentioned. Not once during her speech was the name of her ally Sonia Gandhi mentioned. (The Villupuram incident where she did not turn up for a joint public meeting with Sonia Gandhi was still fresh in everyone’s mind.) One learnt she had not done so in any of her campaign speeches. Every person in the convoy had his place and his duties. Hierarchy was determined by how close one was to the Madam, literally. The loyalty of the average party worker was amazing—they said she took good care of those who were loyal to her. The media was tolerated.

Everyone was extremely polite. The discipline remarkable. Orders from the boss were relayed down in a system not immediately apparent. What was apparent was the alacrity with which they were carried out. There was only one boss. That was the way both the main Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu always functioned


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