In the land of Amma, her worshippers know no limits. Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa, also fondly known as Amma, has been hospitalised for more than ten days and her health condition largely remains mysterious.
Jayalalithaa’s followers have always gone to fanatical heights for her.
In February 2015, a popular karate master and Chennai socialite Shihan Hussaini crucified himself wearing a T-shirt with ‘Amma’ on it, praying that she wins the elections.
Around the same time, an AIADMK MLA from Madurai, Karuppaiah, floated in a swimming pool wearing an Amma T-shirt and holding an AIADMK flag in his mouth, praying that she lives a long life.
There have been other such quirky displays of devotion and affection by party workers too, like getting Amma’s face tattooed on their arms.
So as TN CM J Jayalalithaa labours through her illness at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, with several rumours about her illness spreading like wildfire across the state, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that her supporters would again perform their devotion in extreme ways.
Praying for her good health, an AIADMK district secretary Vetrivel, organized a huge prayer rally at RK Nagar in North Chennai on Monday. RK Nagar is also Jayalalithaa’s constituency.
Hundreds of AIADMK workers had assembled at the rally for a procession bearing pails of milk, as is usually done in the worship of the deity Muruga. One of the worshippers also hung himself from a crane, his skin pierced with thick hooks. This is also usually done in the worship of Muruga.
What’s more, even kids were not spared.
So what explains the pain AIADMK party cadre are willing to endure in her name?
There could be several factors for it. For one, she is an extremely charismatic leader, who has, over the years ,won over her cadre with careful image management. Her persona is her weapon in the political arena, and that’s why, her loyalists have held it dear.
After the death of MG Ramachandran, a former Chief minister of Tamil Nadu and Jayalalithaa’s mentor, many came to her support, and openly said, “We want a charismatic leader. Jayalalithaa is the only person with charisma,” according to a recent book on her by journalist Vaasanthi. Vaasanthi writes that she has made the “audacious observation that the massive mandate she received from the people was due to her charisma alone.” Jayalalithaa believed that her charisma, her popularity alone, would carry her forward in her path to glory, she observes.
Another reason for the sycophancy is that the AIADMK is a party with no order but one, Amma’s order. Anyone could be noticed by Amma at any time and be catapulted to higher leadership. She has managed to have everyone believe that unquestioning loyalty to her will be rewarded. Which is why, party-men routinely perform stunts to grab her attention and show how far they are willing to go for her.