Her fierce stand often brought her into conflict with ruling parties at the Centre...
J. Jayalalithaa, a charismatic politician who was immensely popular among the masses, breathed her last after grave illness of 75 days. Under her, between 1991 and December 2016, when she was sworn in six times as chief minister, Tamil Nadu was the nearest a modern democratic state within India could have been to a monarchy. Her hold on the AIADMK party was absolute, her ministers, party officials and cadres beholden to her supreme ability to attract voters and periodically springing her party into the seat of power at Fort St. George in Chennai. Her word was her command. The totality of her contribution to the state’s stability far outweighed what she did while suffering from vicissitudes brought on by the rough and tumble of politics in a reluctant politician. She may have won elections handsomely while losing some terribly, but regardless of results, she always kept the people’s love and affection. She wasn’t deterred by her almost accidental advent into politics after a film career, and held her own as CM to emerge a national titan thanks to her stupendous ability to overcome hurdles.
Jayalalithaa went to the best schools in Bengaluru and Chennai, and after a curious debut in an English film (Epistle), dominated the silver screen as a heroine in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu cinema, playing the leading lady to every conceivable star like MGR, Nageswara Rao, N.T. Rama Rao, Sivaji and several others. Remarkably, her intellectual abilities far outstripped her formal school qualifications. As an administrator, she could arrive at a considered decision after poring over the issue and then stick to it, come hell or high water. Her fierce stand often brought her into conflict with ruling parties at the Centre, although it was in alliance with the Congress that she shot to power in the sympathy wave following Rajiv Gandhi’s tragic death in 1991. With an imperial mien and a decisive outlook that brooked little argument, Jaya could even be despotic in her administrative style.
As CM, she was disdainful of New Delhi. Where she scored immensely was in judging the pulse of the people — like her political mentor M.G. Ramachandran she had her party re-elected (last summer), defying the alternating swing of the Dravidian pendulum in Tamil Nadu. Her shrewd schemes struck at the heart of every household. Her thoughtful freebies, including the heavily-subsidised Amma canteens and other services aimed at the common man/woman, made her an iconic demigod for the masses. In a land of atheistic tendencies, she was a fervent believer, so much so that prayers for her recovery became a social phenomenon. Sadly, an end must come to all living beings. She may, however, have found an esteemed place in Elysian Fields as a woman who outshone all in a world dominated by men.