Tamil Nadu

Jayalalithaa’s Political Identity: Hindutva Leader Or Not?

S Rajesh

May 28, 2024, 06:29 PM | Updated 06:29 PM IST

J Jayalalithaa. (ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
J Jayalalithaa. (ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Was Jayalalithaa in fact aligned with Hindutva?
  • Her decisions and statements lead to mixed conclusions.
  • K Annamalai, the state president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Tamil Nadu, recently stated in an interview that former chief minister J Jayalalithaa was a far superior Hindutva leader than anyone else in Tamil Nadu.

    "Now, if you look at it, sir, till Jayalalithaaji was alive, she was a far superior Hindutva leader than anybody in Tamil Nadu. Pre-2014, when you have a party like the BJP and Jayalalithaa as a leader, the natural choice of a Hindu voter would be Jayalalithaa, who displayed her Hindu identity openly," he said.

    These remarks have been criticised by people like her former aide V K Sasikala, who said that Jayalalithaa was a leader who worked for the benefit of all communities. 

    While one might agree or disagree on the usage of the term ‘Hindutva leader’ to describe Jayalalithaa, the truth remains that she wasn’t seen as staunch ‘Dravidianist’ as the DMK leaders. She never claimed to be an atheist unlike former chief minister M Karunanidhi or his son M K Stalin. 

    Today, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), is in an alliance with the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which is alleged to be the political arm of the now banned radical Islamist outfit, the Popular Front of India (PFI). It has also been seen indulging in what can be called 'competitive minority appeasement' after snapping ties with the BJP.

    Some of the moves made by the party, now led by Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS), include the support for the release of Muslim convicts serving long prison terms, which included those convicted for their role in the 1998 Coimbatore blasts, demanding that a prayer room be opened for Muslims in the Vellore prison and saying that the AIADMK would protect the minorities like 'the eyelid protects the eye', etc.

    In such a context, the comments by Annamalai assume significance.

    However, it wasn't as if Jayalalithaa did not face charges of appeasing the minorities or passing orders that were seen as opposed to Hindu practices.

    So what was the truth?

    Here are four events from her political life and chief ministership for you to decide if Jayalalithaa was in fact a Hindutva leader or not.

    Ban On Animal Sacrifices

    In 2003, Jayalalithaa ordered the strict enforcement of the Tamil Nadu Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prevention Act, 1950 which was enacted to ban the sacrifice of animals and birds. This however upset voters, mainly from the SC and OBC communities, whose worship traditions, especially in rural areas, had animal sacrifice as a part of their rituals. 

    The reason according to newspaper reports was the sacrifice of 500 buffaloes at a village temple in Tiruchirapalli district. 

    According to a report by Frontline, in the days following the enforcement of the law, many devotees in southern districts defied the ban.

    Critics of the move also said that she had played into the hands of the Hindutva forces, ie, the Sangh Parivar and the BJP, who were trying to homogenise Hinduism.

    The ban was later revoked.

    Support For Ram Mandir In Ayodhya

    Jayalalithaa supported the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. She had famously stated, "If we cannot build a temple in India for Lord Rama, where else can we build it”, and also supported kar seva. 

    Arrest Of Kanchipuram Shankaracharya — Sri Jayendra Saraswathi

    The arrest of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, late at night, on 11 November 2004, from Mahabubnagar in Telangana (then Andhra Pradesh) in connection with a murder case, led to a lot of criticism of Jayalalithaa. The BJP and various Hindu groups criticised the treatment meted out to him. 

    Sri Saraswathi was later acquitted in the case.

    Anti-Conversion Law

    The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act was passed in 2002. Defending the law, Jayalalithaa said that it was not directed against any religion. She also stood her ground against the criticism by the then Pope John Paul II and said that he had no business criticising a law passed by a democratically-elected government in the country.

    Once again, she was criticised for her stance, which according to critics, mirrored that of the BJP and the RSS. The move to bring such a law was also seen as a way to cosy up to the BJP and become a part of the National Democratic Alliance.

    The law was however withdrawn after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, in which the party failed to win a single seat.

    S Rajesh is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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