Jayalalithaa, an authoritarian leader who filed defamation cases to silence critics?
Charismatic AIADMK leader and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa had a history of hounding down her political opponents and critics using the most controversial legal tool, law of defamation.
The most loved leader in Tamil Nadu after Annadurai, J Jayalalithaa died on Monday night in Chennai Apollo Hospital, after suffering a cardiac arrest. The 68-year-old charismatic AIADMK leader was laid to rest next to MGR at the memorial site in Marina beach.
Amma, as popularly addressed by her ardent supporters, was known for her audacity, compassion and political willpower as a leader. But she had a history of hounding down her political opponents and critics using the most controversial legal tool, law of defamation.
According to reports, Jayalalithaa government had filed 213 criminal defamation cases in five years and 190 criminal defamation cases in the time of her last dispensation. It is a long list of cases in which at least 69 have been filed against the opposition DMK, 28 against Vijayakanth and 24 against his party DMDK.
Other than political opponents, the most who were targeted by AIADMK leader were media organisations.
Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan and bi-weekly Nakheeran were sued by Amma for their criticism against the party.
Web portal Rediff.com, published an article in 2014 titled ‘Chennai media knew Jayalalithaa’s health is not fine, but kept mum’. The site was charged alleging that it was written with a mala fide intention to tarnish her image, and it was published without proper verification of facts.
Tehelka weekly and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy also bore the brunt for talking about Jayalalithaa's health. The height of intolerance was seen when television anchor Cyrus Brocha was charged for wearing an attire like her in a show called 'The Week that Wasn’t.'
On August 24, Supreme Court of India came down heavily on Jayalalithaa government for not taking it easy on her critics.
Hearing the petition filed by DMDK chief Vijayakanth who had to bear the brunt of Jayalalithaa dispensation, the apex court had said: “Anyone calling a government corrupt or unfit cannot be slapped with defamation case. There has to be tolerance to criticism. Defamation cases cannot be used as a political counter weapon. Cases for criticising the government or bureaucrats create a chilling effect."
Most of the cases filed by Jayalalithaa are criminal defamation cases, not civil defamation. These actions were deliberately meant to drag the crticis to courts several times and scare those who dare to raise questions.
During her first term as Chief Minister in 1991-1996 the government had filed at least 120 cases. At least 125 cases were filed during her second term in 2001-2006. All these were charged mainly against media and journalists. The trend started changing in 2011 when she came back to power with a huge margin.