“In life there is one person you must rely on – yourself,” she once said. And that’s exactly how Jayalalithaa, the Amma of millions of people lived her life, slicing through the impervious, impenetrable corridors of murky political corridors of Tamil Nadu, battling vicious political rivalry, braving fierce criticism while solidifying, entrenching her position, slowly, brick by brick in what had always been a male bastion, leaving an unforgettable mark on the political landscape of the state, an indelible imprint, a tale to be told, a saga to be passed down to generations of newbie politicians.
But, make no mistake; hers was not a straightforward life. Forced to debut in regional movies at a very young age, much to her chagrin and losing her father when she was only two years old, Jayalalithaa’ s life was not the stuff dreams are made of. Yet, as she once confided in an interview, how irrespective of how hard it was or whether she liked it or not, if she had a task at hand to perform, she would slug it out to perfection. With her iron willed determination, she aced whatever she lay her hands on, whether it was her school exams and or her tinsel town stint, becoming the highest paid Indian actress for a decade. In the movies it was where she met the late MG Ramachandran, her relationship with whom till date, remains more talked about and less revealed.
Like her very eventful life, her foray into the helm of politics was no less dramatic. Having been introduced to AIADMK by MG Ramachandran, she occupied various positions within the party, as her mentor’s a sentinel, executing orders as he would have wanted it, trying hard to consolidate her stronghold in a patriarchal domain. When time put her to test again with the sudden demise of MGR and she was ridiculed, humiliated by the party cadres and supporters of MGR’s wife, she again stood tall, unmoved, against his dead body, not shedding a tear, with a steely resolve on her visage. When she was vilified, with people calling her names for MGR’s alleged obsession with her, she took all insults in her stride, not relenting to the most slanderous of criticisms. Soon after, she lost the political race to MGR’s wife in the race for the Chief Minister and that was touted to be her final fall. But she fought back, as always, on her own, with her motto of self-reliance. She later talked about it in one of her candid interviews when she observed that if you’re a wife, automatically, people talk about you, refer to you, with respect. But such wasn’t the case with her.
Every time she was led down, vitiated or aspersions were cast upon her, she bounced back with the sheer tenacity of her mind. When she was assaulted and disrobed by DMK workers in the TN assembly, she vowed to herself to return only when she became the Chief Minister. And she did return, as the Chief Minister. The rest was history, as they say. She took the reins of power in her hands, reaching to the hearts of the hoi polloi, bequeathing to millions her affection, catering to the poor and the needy, women and kids alike, turning social welfare into a political culture that led to an upheaval amongst the masses who went on to anoint her as their “Amma”. While her domineering, autocratic manner of functioning and her disdain for inner party democracy came into sharp criticism from many quarters, this seemed to endear her all the more to the masses and to the cadre. In a male dominated world, the only way she could have ruled is by convincing the populace that she lived for their welfare. And she did it with a deft stroke, decimating all her detractors and opponents in one blow. Jayalalithaa had discovered the magic formula.
Behind the hardened steely individual, occasionally we could see the soft diminutive persona of a woman who was lonely in life, craving for love, for belongingness. Unconditional love is the stuff books and movies are made of, she gently admitted, being quick to add that she hadn’t experienced true love in life. Wistful she seemed, laying her heart bare, admitting that politics doesn’t makeone insensitive and how like everyone else, she too felt the pain of hearing downright demeaning and humiliating things about her.
Jayalalithaa took her motto of self-reliance to the limit, in the party and in governance. That she pulled it off despite acute censure was evident from her second successive victory and fourth term as chief minister. People who have seen her evolve apparently saw a rationale in her assertion of personal supremacy. In an arena of men where a woman would fight it out every day to survive, Jayalalithaa did it with unmatched flair and élan. She knew what would work for her. She did just that.
Politics can do without women. And they tried really hard to make it happen without women,” Jayalalithaa once said, with a hint of a smug smile. In hindsight, we know what she proved wrong.
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