Jayalalitha and Tamil Nadu government more concerned about image than flood relief

Jayalalitha and her government in Tamil Nadu are being heavily criticised for their absence and their abdication of their responsibilities during the flood relief operations. Instead, the ruling party, the AIADMK, has spent more efforts in producing posters and billboards promoting the Chief Minister. Such as this one where Jayalalitha (Amma) rescues a drowning baby single-handed. The billboard reads “Amma single-handedly saved Chennai city and stranded people from the disaster”and is based on a poster from the movie Bahubali.

Jayalalitha saving baby photo AFP

Jayalalitha saving baby photo AFP

The local media in Tamil Nadu dare not criticise Jayalalitha or her government under the threat of facing expensive and rigged  “criminal defamation” suits. Even reporting opposition politicians who criticise the government is considered “defamation”.  To get any balanced picture of what is happening within the state it is necessary to consult the Indian media outside Tamil Nadu and even media reporting Indian news in other parts of Asia.

Hindustan TimesThere are at least 200 criminal defamation cases pending against journalists and news outlets at the principal sessions court in Chennai for carrying stories deemed critical against the quality of governance in the state. All of these have been filed by the state government. ……. 

On November 30, the Supreme Court questioned the state government’s penchant for filing defamation cases. A bench of justices Dipak Mishra and Prafulla Pant advised the government to stop taking criticism of governance as personal insult.

The Hindu quoted Justice Mishra as saying: “You have to understand that these comments are criticism of a concept of governance. There is nothing against an individual … Why this criminal defamation then.”

Defamation is not the only deterrent to free and fair reportage in the state, according to the ombudsman of a local news channel which is seen as anti-establishment. “The government controls all the cable networks in the state through the TN Arasu Cable TV Corporation Ltd which is headed by the AIADMK’s K Udumalai Radhakrishnan. The channels critical of the government are simply taken off air.”

The TN government shambles in the flood relief has had to be made up for by volunteer and national institutions (Army, Navy). In fact the AIADMK party workers have actually hindered relief by their insistence on first putting stickers of Amma on relief packets before distribution.

To find more balanced view we have to go, for example, as far afield as to the South China Morning Post or to Arab News. But I was glad to see this cartoon in The Hindu today (and currently I consider The Hindu, published in Chennai, as the paper of record for India and far more reliable than the ToI). I expect that Jayalalitha’s fawning and apparently inept government will probably sue them for “criminal defamation” and try to harass them in other ways. (I take the liberty to reproduce the cartoon here because I would not be surprised to find that the TN government twists arms to get it taken down.)

The Hindu cartoon chennai floods 20151208

The Hindu cartoon chennai floods 20151208

SCMP: One of India’s most powerful politicians, a former movie star called “Amma” or “Mother” by her followers, is being heckled and abused for going missing in action after floods swept the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which she rules.

It’s a salutary lesson for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who at first drew nods of approval when he rushed to Chennai last week, promising to stand by its people in their hour of need.

Yet, within hours, Modi became the object of mockery on social media after his press office released a doctored photo of him inspecting flood damage. For both him and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the image of strong leadership created by their publicity machines was undermined.

Until the floods that ravaged the city of 6 million, the lofty remoteness of Jayalalithaa added to the aura around a leader with an almost hysterical following. Devotees of the 1960s screen idol have immolated themselves in her defence in the past.

Now, she faces a backlash from residents fed up with the sight of her image on billboards, aid packets and her own Jaya Plus TV channel. She has been since in public only twice during the crisis – once with Modi.

Arab News: But longtime Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram faced criticism for attempting to politicize the floods after a billboard appeared of her holding up a baby to save it from the floodwaters. The billboard, apparently erected by a party legislator in Chennai and depicting a scene from a local blockbuster movie, sparked a storm on social media.

Character, they say, shows up in times of stress. It cannot be claimed that the TN government has no character, only that it is fundamentally flawed and quite ugly.

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