J Jayalalithaa – the most courageous, strongest and resilient Chief Minister Tamil Nadu ever had. She passed away on December 5, 2016 at the age of 68 in Apollo hospitals, Chennai.
I knew it was coming, signs were there. Yet when the news stares at you on the white sheet of paper, it hits you pretty hard. Then there is just a kind of disbelief, followed prolonged silence.
Yes, Jayalalithaa is no more.
There will no more be traffic when she is traversing the city. There will not be cat and dog fight between Jayalalithaa and DMK leader Karunanidhi. Her death probably means a new era for Tamil Nadu politics.
Yet I feel a sense of loss as I see the news flash. A loss I do not know how to explain as I join thousands of others in mourning.
Last three months has been a roller-coaster ride for media and common people. There were non-stop prayers, puja and drama right outside Apollo hospitals that is enough to take 100 mega serial episodes.
For people outside Tamil Nadu, it is sure confusing. Why so much drama and prayers for a single woman? Jayalalithaa has always made news. As much as she was loved, she was despised by her fellow politicians and adversaries. Yet, none can refute the fact that she was a force to be reckoned with.
What is it about her that make men fall at her feet and women worship?
Jayalalithaa was a yesteryear actress in Tamil cinema and a good one at that. Her journey from entertainment to politics was not smooth, especially after the death of former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran in 1987. She was ridiculed and harassed. Yet, she stood at helm not once but four times. You cannot help but admire her grit and courage she exhibited among the ruffians in politics.
The first time I knew about Jayalalithaa was when I was in Class 3 and saw this super hit movie ‘Ayirathil oruvan’. I remember my dad saying that she is the Chief Minister. She was paired with MGR. The movie, released in 1965, follows the story of doctor Vetrimaran (MGR), who treats rebels fighting against the tyranny of the ruler and is branded as a rebel. He was made a slave and fights for their rights, ultimately winning. Jayalalithaa, as Poonkodi, was his love interest and later becomes his wife. She was only 17 years old.
That movie was probably a turning point that took her to the pinnacle in the Tamil cinema and her subsequent entry into politics. MGR and Jayalalithaa maintained a great relationship, for she was his most trusted person in the film industry and also in his later political career. It is impossible to talk about Jayalalithaa without mentioning MGR, for he was instrumental in bringing her into the world of politics.
Jayalalithaa joined AIADMK in 1982, became party propaganda secretary in 1983 and a member of Rajya Sabha in 1984, which she retained till 1989. After the death of MGR in 1987 the party split into two – Janaki, MGR’s wife faction and Jayalalithaa supporters. Though Janaki became won the vote of confidence and became the Chief Minister, it was dismissed and President’s rule was imposed.
In the subsequent Tamil Nadu legislative assembly election held in 1989, she became the first woman to be elected as the Leader of Opposition in the Parliament. There was no end to the abuse she endured during her tenure as the leader of opposition. She endured all that and came back stronger. In 1991 general election that followed, AIADMK and Congress coalition won 225 seats out of 234 in Tamil Nadu. She became the first woman Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and governed till May 1996. She lost in 1996 election and won again in 2001. She served her third term in 2011 and her fourth term in 2016.
Tamil Nadu was a state where no one party has won consecutively in State election after MGR and Kamaraj. Jayalalithaa broke the spell in May 2016, when she was elected for the second time to be the Chief Minister.
In the years she was the Chief Minister, she sure has her share of mistakes and have come under the scanner for being arrogant and heartless, especially when dealing with State government employees. You will hear people saying that you need to fall on her feet if you want to get anything done. Such was her arrogance. Some people would call it confidence. They gave her the name Iron Lady of Tamil Nadu.
In 2014, she was arrested for disproportionate assets case and was later acquitted. The day she was arrested was as chaotic as it was day she preceding her death. During 2015 floods, she was heavily criticised for mishandling the situation. It does not seem to have affected her prospects in elections neither did corruption charges. Because not all political promise was all talk. People know during her period law and order had always been top notch. Woman oriented schemes and policies were implemented during her period. Lot of schemes that benefit the poor like medical insurance was carried out smoothly.
Jayalalithaa was an intelligent woman. She was well-versed in five languages and an amazing administrator. Her command is absolute. No one dared speak against her. It should be noted that it was not forced rather it was because her very presence she commanded it. Everywhere she went, you will see people standing up to pay respect. She exuded power that was difficult to ignore.
The seemingly perfect political leader of course was flawed. She had a past that would not let go of her and not so wise friendships. There are too many rumors and speculations about her life and whatever we have are hearsay. There are not a single personal detail about Jayalalithaa you will find out, with evidence.
But beneath the figure of political leader and actress, she is also a woman. It is this woman that is shrouded in mystery that fascinated people.
For men, she is a goddess in front of whom they get tongue-tied. For women, she was someone they could look up to. Here was a woman, who was harassed and ridiculed. She not only came to with twice the power and confidence she had, but punched the men in their faces and made them fall at her feet.
Jayalalithaa was a living example of a courageous and a resilient woman, who despite all hurdles rose to the top and let people know what she is capable of. She was to many a ray of hope.
As Tamil Nadu loses one of its bravest daughters, here I’m at a loss for words to explain what exactly Jayalalithaa means to this State. All I know is that her loss is a void that cannot be easily filled, politically and personally.