By Amit Kumar Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Tirunelveli
Ma’am Jayalalithaa was one of those few people who are feared, loved and respected in equal measure. She was imperious enough to make people tremble at the thought of incurring her wrath. But when one came in her presence, the thing one noticed most was her aura and charisma. She liked order and discipline. Possibly the reason the police department was one of her favourites. She prided herself on maintaining law and order and in not interfering in the functioning of the police. Any Tamil Nadu cop will bear testimony to the fact that she walked the talk. In an era where councillors and party cadre routinely interfere with policing in the country, under her, no one dared interfere. For the ‘police’ was Amma’s department. If any of her party cadre was acting wayward, all one needed to say was a report on his activities would be sent to the Chief Minister. That was more than enough to set things right. In case it wasn’t and a report was sent, that person would invariably find himself expelled from the party.
Though a quintessential ‘Iron Lady’ in life, the memories of her that remain after her passing are of a lady who exuded class and was the embodiment of courtesy. A salute to her always got the response of an equally respectful joining of hands. No matter whether the person offering the salute was a Constable, SP or DGP. No matter how many times she had to do it.
The annual CM’s conference with SPs and Collectors gave all the SPs and Collectors a glimpse of their Chief Minister. Everyone came out of those meetings impressed and enamoured. One meeting with her and it was obvious that her intelligence and grip over the administration was unparalleled. In one of the conferences, the Chief Secretary couldn’t understand the point one of the Collectors was making as he wasn’t speaking coherently, possibly out of nervousness of speaking before the CM. When the Chief Secretary sought clarification from the Collector, before he could clarify, the CM told the Chief Secretary the point that the Collector was trying to make. Such was her command over the proceedings!
She was so maternal and indulgent during the conferences that one almost wondered why everyone feared her so much. She would listen to every SP and Collector with complete attention, making notes and seeking clarifications. She accepted almost every request/suggestion made for better administration in those conferences and the announcements became the template for governance for the year. Matters that had been stuck in the bureaucratic morass for ages, were elevated to a CM announcement in a matter of a speech. Ashwin Kotnis managed to get mobile toilets for use by police personnel during the bandobast during one such conference.
In the conference held soon after she assumed power in 2011, the first few officers rattled out figures on the number of opposition party functionaries they had arrested on charges of land grabbing. They were obviously expecting to please her. What she sternly told the gathering was that she wasn’t interested in numbers but very particular that no false cases should be booked. That if a case was booked it should end in conviction as any other outcome would bring a bad name to her government.
In another year, on the first day of the conference, the SPs had gone beyond the approved list of requests and had received an earful from the DGP. Consequently, the next day the first SP to speak did not put forward any request. After he was done, she looked at him with a benevolent smile and asked him why he was trying to curry favour with the Finance Secretary by not making any request. She insisted on him making some demand, which she immediately sanctioned.
In another conference, an SP finished the summary of his district in one line saying that there were no law and order issues in the district. She gently told him to come with a more in-depth analysis the next day. The incident found its way to the newspapers. The next day she gave a tongue lashing to all present saying that what happened in the conference was like a talk between a mother and son and its leak was a disgrace. She was very indulgent with people making a fool of themselves. If anyone went overboard in praise of her, she gave an enigmatic smile. When a Collector was surprised by being called upon to speak and in the confusion muttered something about his office being a stone’s throw away from her residence she had a hearty laugh. In fact, all the conferences were frequently punctuated by laughter due to her one-liners.
She didn’t mind how bad someone’s English was. But if they spoke in high Tamil, she was very particular in correcting them if they inadvertently used an English word during the speech. A Collector who delivered a flawless speech in Tamil was asked why he didn’t use the Tamil word for ‘Emu’. The only English words Balakrishnan Velaiah, used in the course of his brilliant Tamil speech was two-wheeler patrol. She was quick to provide him with the Tamil equivalent.
While understanding the difficulties in which the police operates, she made an impassioned appeal to all police officers present to avoid deaths in police custody at all costs. Her words were – for you a death in custody is a statistic. It is not so for the family which loses a member. It was obvious during these conferences that she wanted Tamil Nadu to be the best State and wanted to do all in her power to improve the lot of the people. Her compassion was in full display.
As news of her ailing spread, people were filled with foreboding about law and order collapsing with her. It would have been ironic if the passing of someone who prided herself in maintaining law and order with an iron hand would have been associated with looting and violence. People were cancelling visits to Tamil Nadu and wondering if it was safe to travel there. There could be no better tribute to her from the people of the State and the Tamil Nadu police that there was absolutely no incidence of violence. It meant that the right from the DGP/Commissioner of Police to the constables did not sleep for 48 hours. Food and toilets were difficult to come by. But no one complained. The result is that the Tamil Nadu police in general and Chennai police in particular are in the almost unprecedented situation of receiving all-round praise from the public, press and social media for the handling of the aftermath and arrangements for the funeral.
There have been a number of videos juxtaposing her funeral procession with that of MGR. The intensity of the crowds and the emotional outpouring of grief is the same. The only starkly visible difference is that the people in the present videos are better fed and clothed. That is ‘Amma’s’ life’s accomplishment. RIP ma’am.
The original post can be found here.
Main photograph by Prakashfotos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.