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Lakhs bid adieu as Jayalalithaa is laid to rest. Now, it's back to politics

S Murari | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:41 IST

Lakhs of mourners paid their last respects as Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa was buried with state honours. Her nephew Depak Jayakumar and her close aide Sasikala Natarajan performed the last rites.

Jayalalithaa, an Iyengar from Mandya near Mysore, was laid to rest next to her mentor and AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran on the sands of the Marina Beach as buglers played the Last Post and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in paying homage to the departed leader.

The funeral went smoothly as mourners who thronged Rajaji Hall, where Jayalalithaa lay in state, and later the burial site on the Marina, conducted themselves with dignity in a befitting tribute to their leader.

Also Read: A fighter to the end, Jayalalithaa leaves behind a complicated legacy

The central figure was the controversial Sasikala, who had been with Jaya for the past three decades through health and sickness and who controlled access to her. She not only regulated Jaya's interactions with partymen and other visitors but also ruthlessly cut the late chief minister off from her only relatives - Deepak and Deepa, the son and daughter of her late brother Jayakumar.

Surprisingly, though, the last rites were performed by Sasikala and Deepak joined her.

A Brahmin priest led Sasikala and Deepak around the coffin as they sprinkled flowers and milk. Contrary to the Brahmin custom of cremation, Jaya's mortal remains, encased in a sandalwood casket, were lowered into a grave.

Jaya had once proclaimed in the assembly that she was proud to call herself a Brahmin. She, in fact, symbolised the evolution of the Dravidian movement away from its roots in non-Brahminism as articulated by Periyar Ramasamy. That her resting place lies next to the memorials of CN Annaduari and MGR only seems reinforces that shift, if only symbolically.

Annadurai eschewed the Dravidian Kazhagam's anti-Brahmin plank and came to power in a rainbow coalition stitched together by Rajaji in 1967, winning over not only the upper castes but also the believers with his proclamation that he believed in "One God, One Community".

MGR was a devout Hindu and a devotee of Kollur Mookambikai Amman. He also did not believe in the rationalism of Periyar.

Jayalalithaa too was a devout Hindu unlike her arch rival and DMK chief M Karunanidhi, whose self-proclaimed atheism was marked by the denigration of Hinduism.

Karunanidhi, 92, is the last of the Dravidian stalwarts and he has been in hospital for the past week or so.

Also Read: From glamour queen to politician, the extraordinary story of Jayalalithaa

The crucial role played by Sasikala in making the funeral arrangements, and the fact that she has enormous 'money power', has led to speculation that she would soon emerge as a powerful figure in the AIADMK.

For now, contrary to speculation, the AIADMK Legislature Party, which met soon after Jaya's death, has only picked O Pannerselvam as the chief minister. It didn't choose to make Sasikala the party general secretary in place of Jaya.

Jaya allowed Sasikala to function as an extra-constitutional authority. She did not legitimise her role by making her an MLA or giving her an important post in the party.

At the funeral, Modi was seen offering his condolences to Sasikala, who was clad in a black sari.

The BJP has an interest in keeping the AIADMK intact as its 37 MPs are toeing the Modi government's line in Parliament. Any move by Sasikala to upset the applecart will only weaken the party just when it is learning to make do without Jaya.

Also, Sasikala has the disproportionate assets case against her. The appeal against the Karnataka High Court order acquitting her, along with Jaya, is now before the Supreme Court. If the apex court upholds the lower court's order, which found them guilty, she will have to spend four years in jail and pay a fine of Rs 100 crore. For now that will be main worry.

Also Read: Jayalalithaa dies, Tamil Nadu grieves: There will never be another Amma

First published: 7 December 2016, 12:41 IST