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  India   Politics  06 Dec 2016  Jayalalithaa: The One Woman Army

Jayalalithaa: The One Woman Army

Published : Dec 6, 2016, 2:17 am IST
Updated : Dec 6, 2016, 6:06 am IST

Jayaram Jayalalithaa’s charisma was such that she remained “The Empress” in every field she touched.

Late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
 Late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

CHENNAI: The ‘Queen Bee’ of the Tamil film industry, who was held in awe by her co-stars and audience alike, for her sensuous looks and mesmerising performances went on to script a success story later in the rough and tumble of politics, traditionally dominated by men. Such was Jayaram Jayalalithaa’s charisma that she remained “The Empress” in every field she touched.

Often called the “The Iron Lady”, “The One Woman Army” and “Tamil Nadu’s Very Own Lady”, Ms Jayalalithaa was indeed an unconventional politician who carved a niche for herself in Tamil Nadu and created ripples in the national political circle by keeping on tenterhooks even the heavyweight parties that had ruled the country.

Travelling on a path that was strewn with stones and thorns, the Mysuru-born daughter of an actress countered every challenge that she faced in life with extra-ordinary resilience, determination and confidence so much so she had full control of the AIADMK, the party launched by her favourite on-screen partner MG Ramachandran, within 14 months of his death that spawned a political vacuum in the Dravidian land.

Hated by all to loved by all in the AIADMK – her transformation as the ‘permanent leader’ of the party till she breathed her last was meteoric and the rollercoaster journey that she endured was indeed marvelous.

Her emergence from the shadows of the legend MGR without irking or insulting him was no less magnificent. The late matinee idol’s family insulted her, banged the door on her to prevent her from having a last glimpse of her mentor and even pushed her from the cortege that carried his body for the funeral.

Though MGR never named Jayalalithaa as his political heir, the onus fell on the six-time Chief Minister to carry forward her mentor’s political mantle after his widow failed to keep the flock together. After the merger of two factions of the AIADMK in 1989, there was no looking back for Jayalalithaa and her actions only showed she has had a seamless transition from a film star to a politician.

Though she raised many an eyebrow when she said she would treat MGR as his “equal” rather than a superstar, Ms Jayalalithaa ensured that she achieved all that her mentor did. The former film star scripted history in 2016 when she led her AIADMK to a spectacular consecutive win, a feat that was achieved by her.

Pushed into acting at the age of 16 when she had just been declared as the topper of the then Madras’ Presentation Convent, popularly known as Church Park School, the teenage girl who aspired to be a top-notch lawyer had no inkling or ambition that she would scale the political peak of the state by ruling it with an iron-hand for nearly 15 years, though in four different tenures.

Her detractors accused her of being “autocratic”, “impulsive”, and most times “arrogant”, the party, which she headed after MGR’s death, looked up to her as ‘Amma’ (mother) with no murmurings, albeit in public. Her colleagues in the government and party catapulted her to the status of a ‘demigod’ and one who can never make a mistake. As Chief Minister, she was widely criticised for taking unilateral decisions and installing a puppet cabinet, which would nod its headed only when she desired.  

Insecure and impulsive by nature, justified to an extent because of her troubled past, she came across as a person who could not be trusted by her political allies and was inaccessible for most of them and her own partymen.

From the time MGR inducted her into the AIADMK after a ‘screen test’ in 1982, Jayalalithaa had to face obstacles at every point a post or a reward knocked at her door --- the dominant leaders of the party and her leader’s immediate family including his wife Janaki had a hatred for her that resulted in MGR removing her from the party posts, only to reinstate after a patch-up with MGR, mostly an emotional one.

Taking on the veterans in the party like R M Veerappan, who was long the manager of MGR when he ruled the film industry, and Janaki, Ms Jayalalithaa learned the tricks of politics in quick time as she rallied the entire party apparatus around her when her mentor was at Brooklyn Hospital in New York for treatment.

Vows that she would enter the Tamil Nadu Assembly only as Chief Minister after she was “molested” by DMK members in 1989, and that she would never wear any jewellery after the arch-rival DMK accused her of amassing wealth – Jayalalithaa became an instant hit among the women folk who went on to become her biggest support base.

Her first term was marred by misuse of power, large-scale corruption, amassment of wealth and splurging of public money for the wedding of her foster son Sudhakaran that infuriated the people of the state who punished so harsh that she lost her own seat in 1996 elections. And the alleged harassment and subsequent jail term and fighting a slew of cases in several courts only inculcated more determination in her and she took much care to ensure such mistakes don’t recur.

And the result: not even a murmur of corruption or scam in the next two governments and the fourth government, which came to an abrupt end with her passing away. Though her friendship with Sasikala was never understood by anyone other than the two, their bonding was a topic of discussion in the political circles fro long. And their relationship also had their own ups and downs; Sasikala was thrown out of plush Poes Garden bungalow twice – in 1996 and 2011 – only to be brought back within months.

Though her mentor had his political grooming in the Dravidian movement, she declared herself a devout Hindu, believed in astrology and went to temples without any hesitation. And ruling the land that was almost turning rational, the former actress never accepted the Dravidian Movement as atheist or an anti-Brahmin movement. In fact, she was one of the few political leaders barring the BJP and Shiv Sena to openly support Kar Seva at Ayodhya.

Tags: j jayalalithaa, aiadmk, jayalalithaa dead
Location: India, Tamil Nadu, Chennai (Madras)