A Charismatic Colossus departs, suddenly
Three Cs mark Jayalalithaa’s political and tinsel career Chequered, Controversial yet Colourful
The excruciating phase of 75 days―physical, emotional, psychological and sentimental for Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary Leader) Dr Jayaraman Jayalalithaa and to millions of her party cadres as well as to the people of Tamil Nadu–came to an end on 5th December at about 11.30 PM when the doctors in the Apollo hospital at Chennai announced that the chief minister breathed her last.
With this announcement by the doctors, which was not unexpected, but shocking to millions of people, a thrilling era of a woman bestowed with indomitable spirit, keen political acumen and a sharp intellect, came to an end in Tamil Nadu. Politics will never be the same again in this Dravidian State and the exit of Jayalalithaa from the political scene will be felt in New Delhi too.
Puratchi Thalaivi was a strong and dominant regional leader but she also had a nationalist outlook. Her reach and clout in national capital was the talk of the country. The tremors or otherwise of her every move in Chennai was felt in the distant 2,450-km Delhi. One may hate her; one may love her but nobody dared to ignore her.
For someone who was born in an orthodox Iyengar Brahmin family in the remote temple-town of Melkote in Mandya district of Karnataka in 1948, her foray first into Tamil tinsel word and then on to the rough and tumble of politics, is really a thrilling experience, not to mention of intrigues sometimes. Like the tradition of any middle-class Brahmin family, Jayalalithaa – as a young girl of eight – went on to learn Carnatic Music and Bharathantyam in the culturally-rich Basasvanagudi locality in Bangalore in late 50s and early 60s.
Jayalalithaa’s convent education in Bishop Cotton Girls School in St Marks Road, Bangalore enabled her to develop a fluent and flawless English – her command over English – both speaking and writing―was amazing. Her Bharathanatyam practice took the family from Bangalore to the then Madras where she got opportunities to act in Tamil movies. That was a modest beginning of what was destined to become a mammoth affair.
Lady luck smiled on this young, charming lady with sharp physical features mixed with grace when she starred opposite MGR, the then giant of the Tamil tinsel world. In all, she acted in 128 movies with MGR, which went on to cement their relationship. The MGR-Jaya pair was a super-hit, to put in cine world parlance. Whispering campaign was conducted about their “relationship” but those who knew them from very close quarters were aware that “the chemistry between MGR and Jayalalithaa was beyond Science” and nobody had guts to go beyond indulging in a cowardly whispering campaign.
Jayalalithaa followed her mentor MGR into politics. Many eyebrows were raised when she joined AIADMK in 1982. She became a victim of jealous of many in the party when she was made the Rajya Sabha MP and party’s propaganda secretary. But Jayalalithaa, as a loyal and dedicated follower, did not let her mentor, MGR down. By her sheer dint of conduct and performance, by her flawless & chaste English, by her sharp intellect she enhanced the party’s reputation as well as that of her herself. Her landmark speeches on matter of education and judiciary continue to remain a point of reference.
That she was a woman of grit and determination could be made out from the fact that Jayalalithaa, a Brahmin, could emerge as numero uno of political world in a state where anti-Brahmin movement was strong.
Gist of two of her speeches reflects her commitment for establishing progressive society. On 21st March 1985, Jayalalithaa, in her speech, said, “The provision of free education for girls upto the higher secondary level is a measure that deserves unstinted prise and in this regard I am reminded of Maxim Gorky: The measure of culture is one’s treatment of women.” On 7th May 1984, in one of her speeches, she said, “There is only one god and only one race, the human race. We are firm believers of this doctrine which our great leader Anna inculcated into us.”
Having been chief minister for five times and faced charges of corruption including serving jail sentence for 23 days, the vicious cycle in politics had come full circle from 1991 till 2016. “A week is a long in politics” is the famous statement of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. But 1300 weeks – that is the distance in time Jayalalithaa has travelled ever since she was sworn in as chief minister in 1991 till she died in December 2016 – must like an eternity. The rough and tumble of politics, the trials and tribulations made Jayalalithaa – as admitted in an interview – tough. She was in by her Samskrit saying, “Vajraadapi Katohrani, Mrudooni Kusumaadapi” (as tough as a diamond; as soft as a flower).
All said and done, she was a pro-people leader whose concern for people’s plight especially women and the downtrodden was genuine. Some of her innovative schemes – subsidised canteen facilities for people for instance–made her a Revolutionary Leader (Puratchi Talaivi).
Jayalalithaa was also accused of being an autocrat, somewhat exhibiting a dictatorial attitude in a democratic polity and holding a total and tight control over the party in her capacity as its general secretary. But this vice-like grip was essential for her to maintain the party’s unity intact and also save her government, given the sharp divide and hostility that exists in Tamil Nadu politics.
Tamil Nadu politics is completely polarised between two Dravidian parties – DMK led by Muthuvel Karunanidhi who is now 95 and AIADMK till recently led by Jayalalithaa. National parties have to ride piggy-back on these parties to make a mark in electoral politics. It is a matter of keen observation as well as concern as to what would be course of events Tamil Nadu will see in the state and what its impact going to be at the national level.
The foremost priority in Tamil Nadu is to ensure that the AIADMK never splits due to internecine quarrel. In fact, more than the AIADMK, it is the BJP at the Centre that wants Jayalalithaa’s party to remain united and run the government smoothly. For, the BJP is hoping to get the support of AIADMK MLAs and MPs in the Presidential elections slated for July 2017. It would have been a different matter if Jayalalithaa were to have been alive. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who enjoyed a cordial and respectful relationship with Puratchi Talaivi would have persuaded her to support NDA candidate in the Presidential polls.
It goes without saying that the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre will keep an eagle’s eye on the day-to-day happenings in the AIADMK party as well as in the government. The survival of AIADMK government headed by O.Pannerselvam is as much important and crucial as it is for the BJP at the Centre. As of now, everything looks alright with Panneerslvam having been sworn in as chief minister. But the problem arises when the selection of all-powerful party general secretary takes place. In a party that is not President-oriented but General-Secretary oriented, it is a matter of curiosity as to who will control the government in the capacity as the General Secretary.
by S.A. Hemantha Kumar
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