Amma The Gladiator
Suddenly the camera focus diverted to a glamour-lady of yester-years, the mighty successful politician and The Mother of the poor and the downtrodden. The whole media also presented a 24-hour coverage to Amma, as the constitutional and political heavyweights thronged the Rajaji Hall. The demise of Jayalalithaa has left an irreparable void in Indian politics. Coming out from the shadow of MGR, Jayalalithaa carved out a niche for herself. She not only grew as a courageous leader, but also as a challenging politician in times of precarious conditions especially after the demise of MGR. Her popularity never faded, as can be seen in the tumultuous crowds that thronged the streets to have a glimpse of her last rites. She was a great lady who took every adversity as an opportunity and fought her way back to success. She overcame so many opposite conditions in the present context of Indian and more specifically Tamil political scene. A woman from a traditional Brahmin family without any political roots, fighting against experienced and wily politician like Karunanidhi in anti-Brahmin Dravidian polity of Tamil Nadu, became Chief Minister not once but for six-times. Her spectacular achievement was her electoral victory in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014 that sent 38 MPs from her party out of the 39 seats her party contested on its own. This made AIADMK the third largest party in the Lok Sabha and enhanced the party’s national stature as a big force to reckon with in India’s growth. Post-Jayalalithaa, the party has to maintain this stature–the party has a challenging period ahead. Here it is worth mentioning that she took over when India had just liberalised the economy. Her drive and ability to mobilise infrastructure laid the foundations for rapid expansion of automotive industry in the state. During the tenure from 2011 to 2016, she was able to redress the energy crisis by adding more than 5000 MW of power capacity. She was an able administrator. No surprise that talented bureaucrats had relative freedom under her regime. In terms of law and order, social infrastructure, roads, Tamil Nadu always had the lead over other states. If Tamil Nadu now leads the major states in per capita income, it is because of the foundations laid from 1991 to 1996, which got carried forward.
Next to Indira Gandhi, Jayalalithaaa was perhaps the strongest woman politician in India. Unlike Indira Gandhi, Jayalalithaa passed through hard times to turn into a top politician. It has never been easy for a woman politician to fight a political battle dominated by men. While many a Jayalalithaa’s political actions are open to critical analysis, one has to acknowledge that it was no mean achievement to keep the party united and bring it to power even after biting dust a number of times. The rough and tumble of politics–the trials and tribulations–made Jayalalithaa tough. The rise of Jayalalithaa, from a reluctant actor and a reluctant politician to becoming a prominent figure in Tamil Nadu, is the stuff of legend. It was her indomitable spirit to face any hurdle head on that kept her way ahead. Her legacy lies in the host of welfare schemes she created to benefit various sections in the state. 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. 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. It cannot be gainsaid, while she commanded unflinching loyalty among her party-men, the absence of a second rung leadership, which could be as charismatic and influential as her is likely to pose a challenge to its fortunes as a political organisation. However, a section of political analysts feel she was not fundamentally different from her arch rival in governing the state. Her populist schemes were a huge drain on the exchequer. Such schemes, antithetical to sustainable development, only grew in frequency. Having said this, it is apt to say that the iron lady, who all the way tendered a pro-people government with all the welfare measures, is now laid to rest and the new incumbent of the government should see that the existing solidarity of the party and the polity being carried out and should render the same style of governance, as it is spared by the demised leader towards people welfare and growth of the state on all fronts as a homage to their beloved Amma.