YEH HAI INDIA
PIC OF THE DAY
Gift your parents good health
A Ganesh Nadar in Andipatti
J Jayalalithaa was into her second day of canvassing.
She had just addressed a meeting in Kunnur, her first stop for the day.
On the Theni-Madurai highway lies a small hamlet -- Arapadithevanpatti. A bunch of villagers waited patiently by the road. Loudspeakers were blaring MGR songs. The AIADMK is lucky; it does not have to bother with writing election songs. It just keeps replaying old MGR songs. MGR songs were always about truth, justice, the poor, the farmer, the fisherman, the labourer, the cycle-rickshaw man.
The crowd grew steadily. On the other side were fields. A young man came racing across, holding his dhoti in his hand. His shirt was open and he almost flew towards the road. Once near the road he stopped, put on his dhoti, buttoned his shirt and joined the crowd in anticipation.
The pilot car came roaring by followed by another 10 police vehicles. Then came another 10 press cars. Then the Jaya TV crew. Ah! That was the signal. If Jaya TV had arrived, could Amma be far behind?
Indeed, she soon appeared. As usual cries of 'she is so fair' rent the air. No wonder the British were able to colonise India for so long.
Jayalalithaa's Tempo Traveller came to a majestic halt. Five halogen lamps twinkled opposite Amma's face, making her glow. The policemen who had so far kept the crowd in a single line now gave up. And Jaya's Black Cat commandos stood by impassively as the crowd went into a frenzy, a frenzy that can only be described as a craze.
The people did not bother to listen to one word she said. If they had read the papers they would have realised that she was saying exactly what she had said the day before at other places. But they couldn't care less. They just wanted to see their Amma. And once they had seen her, they had to get as close to her as possible. And they danced and they put babies on their shoulders and they carried her photos, placards, flags, waving them in her face. All to catch her attention. One smile, when her eyes met theirs, and they would be hers for life.
And then Jaya rolled the glass down. She actually rolled the glass down! So the people could see her directly. Not through a darkened glass pane. Maybe it was bulletproof, or anti-tank missile-proof. Whatever. But it still came down. And as it came down, the mood of the crowd soared. "AMMA!" they screamed. At that moment it was clear that they wouldn't just vote for her. They would live for her, die for her.
Still, I asked a couple of women who they would vote for. I got a chilling stare in return. "We will vote for Amma," said one. "Anybody else who comes here asking for votes will get..." and she showed me her open palm. I thought of a wisecrack about the Congress election symbol, an open palm. Then discretion got the better of me.
Back at the van, no sooner had the glass pane gone down than little babies went up, handed to Amma. She in turn blessed them and named them, and the women went into a tizzy. One man asked his thee-year-old daughter if she had seen Amma. Yes, nodded the child perched on her mother's shoulder. Wonder if the child knew, however, that what she had just witnessed was modern-day Tamil Nadu's version of divinity.
After blessing the babies the glass pane went up again. And Amma said she had to go after promising the moon to the voters. But they weren't listening anyway. They just clapped, danced, smiled.
Fifteen minutes after Amma's vehicle drove off, the convoy was still passing. There must have been some 200 vehicles tailing her. Clearly, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam didn't care too much for the observer of the Election Commission, whose car had passed by just five minutes before Jayalalithaa arrived in the village.
There was one change, however. In the past all vehicles in the convoy would fly the AIADMK flag. Now, there were no flags. Instead they had pictures of Jayalalithaa somewhere, so that everyone knew they were Amma's minions.