The bright star that shone almost for three decades over Tamil Nadu is gone forever. Larger than life, it’s difficult to believe that she is no more. Hundreds of thousands who came to see their Amma for the last time were testimony to the fact that she was not just a leader but had grown into a phenomenon.
And this was not due to her mentor M.G. Ramachandran, who had died long time ago, but because of her pro-poor policies she had envisaged and implemented with great determination. “It came to me suddenly that my maker gave me fame and good fortune, I must do something for the poor,” she told me. I had not taken her seriously but in retrospect I realise she was earnest about helping the less fortunate.
Her welfare schemes ultimately replaced the breadwinner of families. Her ‘mother politics’, her giver image, led to her becoming more popular and more loved than her mentor, M.G. Ramachandran. And the number of dignitaries who flew to Chennai to pay their tribute to her indicated as well that she grew taller than MGR and more known as an outstanding administrator and politician than her mentor.
When she came to Delhi as a Rajya Sabha member, she was still known as a protégé of MGR. Yet her speeches in the House impressed Indira Gandhi. She invited her to a dinner she hosted for a visiting dignitary couple.
True, MG Ramachandran helped her rise in films and also inducted her in politics but it was her courage, her conviction and determination that brought her all that she desired, to be at the top in films where she was the highest earning heroine in Tamil films and when she joined politics, sweeping aside all her opponents and conspirators, she could, after MGR, become chief minister.
Then MGR was not around to help her. She showed her real fighting spirit when she swept aside veteran M. Veerapan and Janaki, widow of MGR, to become chief minister. Her total number of years being CM was 15. But the irony is that despite being Amma to millions she was a lonely person. She had no one of her own to sit with her on her last journey. Loneliness apart, she had to struggle and fend off her enemies both in her party and K. Kaunanidhi, DMK Chief, who has become a legend in his lifetime.
It was almost impossible for a woman to enter politics in South, with all the toughies who crowd the Tamil Nadu politics. But she forced them to surrender. A time came when leaders much senior to her would bow down and touch her feet and she would in acknowledgement just look at someone else. Arrogance personified, but she could afford to, having struggled all her life, fight off cases and conspiracies.
She loomed large on the horizon, in the minds of the public as a benevolent despot, a tough politician, an unforgiving leader, a vengeful opponent and an unfriendly, intolerant, ruthless chief minister who dragged journalists and opposition leaders to court on defamation charges.
The grip she had on the party was something almost frightening. Her hold and fear she generated in her ministers and officials was amazing. They were so afraid of her as if they will be cursed by God. It was not like this during the time of her mentor M.G. Ramachandran. She tirelessly waded through the numerous trials and upheavals in her life, leaving her opponents and admirers speechless. Yet, when she lay unconscious in the hospital, she seemed like an orphan with no one next to her, to call her own.’
This is a paradox which is inexplicable. VP Singh wrote a small poem, the gist of which was that people bowed to the chair and the occupant. She however never left the chair. In her life she attained what she wanted but it cost her heavy. She forgot that nothing can substitute for human feeling.
I discovrered her magnanimous side by chance. When she came to Delhi as member of the Rajya Sabha, initially she stayed in Nataraj Suite in Ashoka Hotel. I asked special correspondent Naresh Kumar, a young Tamilian, to interview her. He came back after two hours, very agitated and upset. Being young, he had not become brazen enough to give it back to her.
The following day her secretary called that the ‘Madam’ wants to meet me. I told her that her madam insulted my colleague and I did not see any positive coming out from the meeting. After sometime the secretary called to say everything would be sorted out. To cut it short, Jayalalithaa was very pleasant and apologised to Naresh personally.
I realised that she was human, her arrogance, audacity and ruthlessness were her weapons to capture the CM gaddi, fighting off strong rivals, much more seasoned than her. It is her generosity and the image of a giver that led to the personality cult, which made her grow taller than AIADMK.
She was the most courageous woman politician in India apart from Indira Gandhi. But while Indiraji had the immense advantage of belonging to a political family and Nehru’s daughter, Jayalalitha had no one to back her after the demise of MGR. By sheer determination, she fought all the political slayers to become the most colourful politician who brought smile back on the poor. She was a star when she died. And it will take a very long time to fill the void her passing away has created.
by Vijay Dutt