As hundreds of people pour in to pay their last respect to Amma, as I begin to write my tribute to Jayalalithaa, myriad of images come to my mind, the graceful dancer, extremely successful filmstar, the gutsy politician, the woman who dared to successfully challenge a male bastion, a slightly autocratic leader but always the one who never lost her touch with people, with th masses. It is the crowd that became her biggest achievement and asset, a people’s leader who many feel was misunderstood, misled and misinterpreted by her aides and the media, the one who viewed most outside her inner circle with distrust.
Amma started her professional career as a teenage actor following the footsteps of her later life mentor in politics, MG Ramachandran and eventually emerged as the first woman leader taking the centre stage in Tamil Nadu politics. Such was her political acumen that she went on to lead the party that is India’s second largest regional party and third largest in Parliament currently with 37 seats, the (AIADMK) to four straight election wins and reigned as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for a total of nearly 15 years in separate stints.
Her first stint as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister was in 1991, just three years after the death of MGR and after successfully battling many internal and external challenges. She became the youngest Chief Minister the state had ever seen and drew a token salary of Re 1. A term that was a mixed bag of success and setbacks, she introduced several social welfare scheme like ‘Cradle Baby Scheme’, formation of state run pharmaceutical companies, etc and perhaps even defined her brand of politics in no uncertain ways.
However history perhaps has documented her second stint more vividly. Her stint between 2001-2006 was marked by several controversies and emergence of power hungry nepotism which in many ways tarnished Jayalalithaa’s reputation quite irreparably. But it can’t be denied that in many ways over the last 30 years or so Jayalalithaa rewrote the political roadmap of Tamil Nadu in many different ways. An undisputed leader with a vice like grip on her party, her policies always managed to give her the edge required to turn around a situation and set forth for fresh challenges. Perhaps most commonly talked about for the disproportionate asset case, the hundreds of shoes, the huge gold jewellery stock or the unending closets filled with sarees, it’s hard to deny Amma’s charm or the grit with which she altered the character of Tamil Nadu politics.