New Delhi, Dec 6 (IANS) Tamils in the Indian capital on Tuesday paid homage to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, insisting it will be impossible for anyone to fill the void created by her death.
From blue collar workers to the poor, Tamil men and women IANS spoke to were unanimous that Jayalalithaa, who died on Monday night at age 68, was truly an iconic leader.
And the main reason for her widespread popularity in populous Tamil Nadu was her genuine concern for the underprivileged.
“No one can be more popular than Amma because she always wanted to do something for the public,” G.N.D. Elangovan said in a brief conversation at the Delhi Tamil Sangam.
A cine star when she entered politics, Jayalalitha became another MGR or M.G. Ramachandran — her mentor, legendary actor and founder leader of the AIADMK.
“MGR was like her too,” Elangovan said. “After his death (in 1987), she filled the void. She provided free electricity, mixers, grinders, fans and all those small items the poor could not afford to buy.”
In her later years, she introduced the Amma Canteen where one could get sumptuous food for as little as Rs 10.
“No other leader in India is so popular in India,” said Elangogan.
S. Kandasamy, who earns a pittance at the Qutub Minar tomb, readily agreed.
“She was our Amma, she was a good person for the poor,” Kandasamy said, shedding tears as he spoke. “She never thought of having a family. Her only concern were the poor in Tamil Nadu.”
Kandasamy was among the many Tamils who made it to the Delhi Tamil Sangam complex where a framed portrait of a younger looking Jayalalithaa was placed on a table, overflowing with rose petals.
Many Tamils living and working in Delhi maintain close links with Tamil Nadu. Some vote in the state. But even those who don’t had a good thing or two to say about the AIADMK leader.
“She worked for the Tamil community and women in particular,” said M.S. Ravi, a Tamil who made Delhi his home a long time back.
He said Jayalalithaa, as the five-time Chief Minister, provided houses to the poor, potable water for Rs 10 a bottle, financial aid to conduct the wedding of poor girls which included gold and money.
Her government also gave 20 kg of rice free to the poor and free bus passes and books, laptop and cycle to the students in the state.
“We cannot forget Amma as long as we live,” Ravi told IANS.
Mukundan, the Delhi Tamil Sangam Secretary, described Jayalalithaa, who was a spinster, as a messiah for the poor.
“She was a mass leader. She was the highest paid actress of her time.”
Other Tamils said she was a bold lady who knew how to succeed in a male dominated world.
A retired government official who did not want to be quoted by name said she was also an able administrator.
“I cannot see any leader of her stature to fill the gap her death has created,” he said.
Many said her greatest achievement was the way she put down, with an iron hand, “goondaism” in Tamil Nadu.
She also banned liquor in the state, earning the frenzied support of poor women tormented by drunkard husbands. And in an earlier stint, she gave a free hand to police kill notorious sandalwood smuggler Veerappan.
“Can anyone take her place? No, no one can do that,” said Muthusamy, a Delhi-based man who hails from Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu.
Almost all Tamil-owned shops in Delhi were shuttered on Tuesday as a mark of respect for Jayalalithaa.
Even the Tamil street vendors who make a living selling the hugely popular dosas, vadas and idlis prefered to suffer loss than work on a day their favourite leader would be laid to rest on the Chennai beach.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at [email protected])