Amma – Empress of Tamil Nadu

So the deed was done; in the days of the early autumn of 2014, Ms Jayalalitha, the ruling Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was sentenced to four years of imprisonment on charges of corruption. Ms Jayalalitha, or Amma as she is known across Tamil Nadu is the Empress Dowager of the State inheriting the political legacy and mantle from her mentor and paramour, the charismatic cinema super star turned politician, MGR. Her popularity seems to rise in a straight long curve and she is the only politician in India to have garnered a higher percentage of votes than the front runner, Mamata Banerjee, the incumbent Chief Minister of West Bengal. Amma faces prison for her alleged accumulation of assets far above her declared income. Amma’s arrest especially despite her political influence and popularity is a sure victory for all those fighting against corruption in public life, a platform set out at first by the non starter Aam Admi Party and later appropriated by the ruling BJP. Amma’s arrest is part of the BJP’s attack on the so-called “non BJP states” by its use of the cudgel of corruption. The riots that broke out in Amma’s support shows the unrelenting popular mandate she has in her state. No one seems to mind Amma’s corruption at all; for the people of Tamil Nadu, morals reserved for the Empress are completely different from those for the citizen. Democracy is a means to re-establish an Empire.

In order to understand Tamil Nadu’s unconcern for corruption among politicians one must delve deep into its history. The term Tamil Nadu literally means a confederacy of the Tamil people, signifying that the region has a consciousness of being a linguistic unity of people who are otherwise diverse. Tamil to Tamil Nadu is similar to Sanskrit of Northern India, in which a language attempted to bring together some diverse groups of people under some kind of mutual recognition of being related to one another. The purpose behind the unity in both cases may have been to foster barter and exchange in the hoary ages of primitive economies. The Tamil country has been home to the human species before than anywhere else in India for it was as early as 15,000 years ago that humans grew food and built dwellings here. Tamils are very conscious of the ancientness of their habitat and hence often assert an entitlement to define morality and spirituality for the rest of India. The use of language and later culture and religion as a binding force of its various social groups into an organic solidarity rather than a mechanical solidarity; the former being a unity out of interdependence and exchange and the latter being a unity forged through tribal homogeneity makes Tamil Nadu into a self contained nation. Tamil Nadu is an empire unto itself; it is a nation within a nation. Its strong culture sustains the inner coherence of its society but also isolates it from the rest of the Indians. To attempt to paint Tamil Nadu with the same brush as everywhere else in India would be naïve.
Indian societies have been more or less self regulating and self controlling; sometimes oppressive religious sanctions, at other times surrender of the individual will to a larger collectivity and the compartmentalisation of people into castes have made the Indians peaceful people on the whole. Wars have been fought but those were among kings and the contenders of power while leaving the everyday life of people unaffected. The role of culture therefore assumes a great importance. The huge church like temples in Tamil Nadu points out to the extensive use of religion, religious insignia and religious spaces to hold continuously produce cultures that could bind people together. Political power in the form of the Empire was as also an early appearance in Tamil Nadu with the Pandyans as early as the 3rd century BCE.

Political unity had to be fostered upon the Tamil people of the confederacy in the form of an Emperor with an army because of an armed attack by some raiders from the North. The “north” was the plateau of Bellary in present day Karnataka and the raiders were a group of people known as the Kalabhras. The root, abhra literally means mica but may extend to mean gold and silver dust as well, both of the last mentioned being found in this region. Oral history sources from Jharkhand indigenous tribes, collected and catalogued by Father Dungdung in his museum of oral history at Gumla, near Ranchi informs us of an immigrant group of people who came via the sea with knowledge of metallurgy and who were violent, cannibalistic and aggressive at the same time as the “fair skinned people in white winged horses” who swept down the northern plains over the mountains and looted, raped and burnt down cities and palaces. This means that there was another stream of migration into India along with the Aryans, most probably those who were known as the Asuras. These Asuras may have swooped down into the Tamil country necessitating the first political unity of the region. Emperors are needed to protect the cultural integrity of the Tamils and within the Tamilians, despite the other things of democracy remaining the same, the desire for a super leader is enormous. To try and pull down the Emperor, in this case the imperious Amma, may amount to the dismantling of the Tamil pride and identity.

Tamils have been rather sensitive to conquests from the “north”; its nadir of political humiliation was not so much the British as it was during the period in the 14th century when it was ruled by the Vijaynagara kingdom originating in the same Hampi region as the Kalabhras. It is serendipity that the court ruling sentencing Amma to imprisonment originates in a court in Banglaore, also in the same region of the Kalabhras and the Vijaynagara. Tamils in their minds live through the imperial Cholas, the dynasty that over a few centuries starting from the 9th had extended their empires from the south east Asia, Sri Lanka, Indo-China to be able to construct temples as far as the southern coast of China. They have assassinated the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi because he, a representative of the northern powers had called for peace in Sri Lanka by circumventing the seat of the Tamil power in Tamil Nadu. Amma’s imprisonment may well be looked upon as another molestation of the Tamil honour opening up a long drawn battle of estrangement of Tamilians with the rest of the Indians. Prelude to another Kashmir.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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