She bid goodbye to this world on December 5, 2016. She was imperious, she was deified, she was feared and loved, she stood apart unreal, gigantic as a sole figure. Truly, a trailblazer of Tamil Politics. Late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa’s story from a movie star to a benevolent administrator is the one of unflinching determination and unshakable conviction.
She was born in Karnataka on February 24, 1948. With her father’s death when she was two and her mother joining the Tamil Film Industry subsequently, Jayalalithaa had a lonely childhood but was remarkably intelligent and academically inclined; she stood first in class and dreamed of being a lawyer or an IAS Officer. As she cleared her 10th class being the state topper, she was offered a scholarship, understanding the financial constraints, her mother discouraged her to pursue further studies and propelled her to join the film industry where she did exceptionally well and was a top heroine of her times. Later, she met the iconic Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran aka MGR who went on to be her mentor after her mother’s death when she was only 21. Jaya was left alone with grief and despair.
She made her political debut in AIADMK party with the support and mentorship of MGR and her intense desire to serve the people. Being a woman in male-dominated politics, she had to face a lot of challenges. But she rose above it all with her inordinate efforts and her deep conviction. Indira Gandhi was charmed by her. She was indeed very ambitious and that made her co-workers envy her and create obstacles in her path. She surmounted all of it and emerged victoriously. Then there is the popular dramatic incident where she was vilified and thrown out of the Legislative Assembly. She vowed to get back and after two years she entered the assembly as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
After the death of MGR, who was the Supremo of AIADMK, she was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu proving her mantle with adequate votes and absolute power. She was beautiful, she wore a silk saree and spoke fluent English. The bureaucrats were charmed by her pleasing manners, her elegance and with her thorough preparation for every meeting. She was now liberated from the clutches of MGR, she stood alone as a sole figure but grew increasingly intolerant towards press, in fact, she is a self-declared media hater.
With her sworn in as Chief Minister, a new cult of leadership worship had been initiated. I read in her biography written by Journalist Vaasanthi that every new project and scheme became her personal edict, and came accompanied by her out-sized photograph. Her iconic project Amma Canteen was celebrated and appreciated by her opponents. The people of Tamil Nadu were hugely benefited by Amma Canteens with healthy food at cheap prices. She had promised in her campaign to fulfill the basic necessities of the people which she rightfully did and led by example.
I am fascinated by late J.Jayalithaa and her journey is indeed inspiring. I am impressed by her determination and her extraordinary success. To my mind, she is indeed a remarkably intelligent woman who never needed social media, unlike many politicians who are constantly tweeting. She touched the lives of people in basic and ordinary ways by creating service delivery schemes that established her presence in daily life with Amma Salt, Amma Mixer and Grinders and many more. This Amma branding is an incredible political strategy which is commendable though there are various reports that it had certain ramifications on the State Government’s budget.
She stood tall, as a singular figure and redefined public administration. She was inaccessible yet people’s leader, she was a superstar yet a lone heroine and hated the limelight. What an irony. She departed from the world in 2016 but she will be remembered and cherished forever. Lastly, concluding with an inspiring quote by her which I read in her biography which displays her unflinching determination that she held on to through the vicissitudes of her life.
“I couldn’t be indifferent, because I have this in me – once I take up a job I will never do it half-heartedly or indifferently even if it is something like giving a bath to my dog! It was the same thing with acting in films and with politics. I can will myself to do anything in the world.”