The national elections are underway in India, with Tamil Nadu due to vote in a few days. For the last few weeks we have been seeing parades and two wheeler processions waving flags of one party or another. Indian politics are much more confusing that those in the USA since there are many parties, with new ones springing up overnight as some leader exits his or her old party and decides to form a new one. If the leader is popular, then the party does well, even from the beginning. Politics seems to be more about leaders and personalities than policy issues, with a political ‘star’ system reminiscent of Bollywood. The Indian congress (Lok Sabbha) has many seats, with many people running for the seats. The signs you see for them show the leader as a big image, then the various candidates for their party under the leader. At the national level, since there are so many parties, it is coalitions that end up ruling. At the state level, it is possible for one party to win an election and organize the state’s government. In Tamil Nadu the two parties capable of this are the DMK party, who presently rules the state, and the AIADMK party, which has previously governed here.
One of the biggest Tamil Nadu political leads is J Jayalalithia (popularly called “Jaya”), known in the newspapers as the ‘supremo’ of the AIADMK party. As a powerful woman, Jaya is somewhat unusual in Indian politics. What is not unusual is her family connection. She was a popular Tamil (“Kollywood”) movie star, and mistress of the popular Tamil actor, MGR (M G Ramachandran), who founded the AIADMK political party. When MGR died, Jaya took over the party. She was elected and served as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for some time, but finally lost to her arch-rival and powerful head of the DMK party, M. Karunanidhi. Jaya still holds much power as leader of the Opposition Party, and is influential in regional politics as a savvy deal maker. She is now called by many, ‘Mother.’
Jaya came to town this week for a political rally. Although she herself is not running for office in this election, her party has fielded candidates for the national congress. Work started about three days before her arrival, setting up poles to make frames for ‘hoardings’ (what are called in the USA, billboards), and for a fancy stage structure where Jaya would speak.
The first set of photos was taken the morning of her visit.
We were driving the scooter west on Bangalore Road from Tiruvannamalai. First we noticed a rickshaw flying political flags. DMK, the party currently in power at the state level, is the AIADMK’s main rival. Tiruvannamalai is, they say, a real DMK center.
We pass sadhus, seeming to pay attention to none of this.
Ahead on the road we see something.
Giant Jaya signs, maybe 20 feet tall!
Over her shoulder is MGR (with the hat), and another man. I do not know who he is. Twigs from a tree are casting shadows over this poster.
More giant Jayas line the road. Carol had been trying to get a small job out of a local print shop. They have been too busy to run her job. I guess this was why.
Jaya kissing some other woman, with her two benefactors looking down.
More of Jaya.
Below is the big open field at the corner of Perumpakkam Road, where at Deepam they have the cow market. Now it’s set up for Jaya’s rally.
Giant Jaya posters line Perumpakkam Road.
My scooter is parked under one of the signs.
On the other side of Bangalore Road, there is a cardboard castle, maybe 40 feet high. Jaya has style!
Another thousand chairs are being unloaded from a truck. Arunachala watches over, unmoved.
Here is a full view of Jaya’s castle.
A sea of chairs.
Men are working to set up the area where the TV cameras will be situated.
Here is the stage, crowned by Jaya, MGR, and ?
On the other side, more Jaya signs, in case anyone forgets who this is for.
In these banners, Jaya is the flower, blooming from the plant below.
Around the edge of the road, they are placing white dots. I guess this marks ‘No Parking’ zones.
We went home for a bit. The rally was to start at 1 PM. We thought these things usually run late, so we would go back at 1:30.
When we did leave home to check out the rally, we soon ran into MUCH foot traffic, going the wrong way, away from the rally.
I heard later that Jaya actually arrived on time, flying in on a helicopter. She only spoke for 30 minutes, telling the audience she wanted to be short since it was such a hot day. So she gave a short speech, then got back in her ‘chopper’ and flew away.
Drinking and driving. Water, though.
Besides the thousands of people walking up Girivalam Road, there were trucks, busses and other vehicles, trying to go both ways on the road. This is more of a madhouse than even the biggest full moon night.
Many groups of Indian women pass us. They were trucked in from nearby villages. Some, we hear, were paid money to come today. Many people were excited to see a “real Kollywood star” in person.
These women wore Jaya sarees. Carol wants one!
More people. Carol shot this over my shoulder. I am wearing a blue shirt with white stripes.
A car with a Jaya sign on the back.
Men walking, carrying signs for AIADMK and PMK parties.
Another group of women, giggling when they see the camera. Beautiful orange flowers are being worn by the woman on the right. She wears a punjabi suit, which in Tiruvannamalai means that she is a young women, looking especially pretty for the day wearing the nice flowers.
More people. It is getting harder and harder to move forward on my two wheeler.
They use trucks here like busses – but standing room only. Many trucks were here, carrying people from outlying areas.
More people. About now we gave up. Too hard to move through the walkers and traffic. And since we have seen thousands of people walking away, we are sure that we missed the show.
We parked the two wheeler, walked down the road a bit, looking around. Then we got back on our cycle and rode back through the crowd to our house.
We heard the next day that about 2 lakh (200,000) people came to see Jaya. Some of our friends from the village were impressed by what they saw and heard. Before the visit they had planned to vote DMK. After seeing her, they plan to vote AIADMK, so I guess the political rally paid off for Jaya.
This was a BIG event, and had to cost much money to set up. 50 or 100 people worked for three days setting it up, and for another day tearing it down. And they printed MANY large posters. These vinyl signs are printed locally. The print shops can print banners up to 20 feet long, by 8 feet wide. And Jaya had a helicopter. Other expenses included getting local village people bussed in. The political parties can spend big money on these events. I sure wish there was this kind of money available to help the abandoned elders in the local villages.
The final phases of the national election will be held in a few days. We will see just what impact today’s rally had. From the small sample of people we talked to, it changed some people’s minds.