Obituary: Jayalalithaa—The Iron Butterfly

Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa (February 24, 1948-December 5, 2016), a larger than life political personality, breathed her last after almost three months in hospital

Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Sandhya Ravishankar

Tamil Nadu mourns once again the end of another towering personality, 68-year-old Jayalalithaa Jayaram, Chief Minister of the state and a politician who swayed the politics not only of Tamil Nadu but also influenced the course of India’s political history.

Jayalalithaa is better known as the ‘Iron Butterfly’—a strong administrator with a proven track record of never flinching from taking tough decisions and a no-nonsense approach towards governance, and yet cultivating a larger than life image of being the benevolent mother or ‘Amma’, her political moniker.

From Cine Star to Chief Minister: Jayalalithaa’s Meteoric Rise to Fame

Born in 1948 in Mandya, Karnataka, Jaya was rendered fatherless at the age of two. Her mother, Sandhya, moved to Chennai to work as a small time actor in the Tamil film industry in order to make ends meet. Jaya became a star in her own right at the tender age of 15. She shot to fame as a doe-eyed beauty cast beside MG Ramachandran, three decades her senior, who would go on to found the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Jaya, who initially rode on MGR’s success and favour, eventually went on to take over the AIADMK, and become a powerful politician in her own right, following his death in 1987. In 1991, Jayalalithaa single-handedly wrested power from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), leading the AIADMK to a thumping victory.

Say ‘Amma’ in Tamil Nadu and Jayalalithaa’s voters and party cadre go into raptures, calling her a Goddess, a Golden Star, a Revolutionary Leader among other such superlatives. Jaya was no doubt a cult figure—an able administrator, a charismatic leader and a superior manager who was not afraid to take unpopular decisions. With her demise, Tamil Nadu’s politics has been changed forever.

Ups and downs followed in her political career—marred by a string of corruption cases since 1996. She was even arrested and jailed briefly in 1996 in a case relating to alleged irregularities in the purchase of 45,000 colour TV sets when she was Chief Minister between 1991 and 1996.

<b>Photo by R Senthil Kumar/PTI</b>
Photo by R Senthil Kumar/PTI
Distraught AIADMK workers outside Apollo Hospital, where the chief minister was being treated, in Chennai on Monday

Jaya also made her mark on the national stage as a crucial player when she toppled the first NDA government after a mere 13 months in April 1999, earning her the dubious distinction of being an unreliable and mercurial ally. In 2014, she cobbled up a motley Third Front, sparking speculation that she too could be a Prime Minister in the running.

Jaya created history in Tamil Nadu in 2016 by being only the second political leader to win two successive Assembly elections and occupy the Chief Minister’s chair. The first leader was her political mentor, MGR.

The cases against Jayalalithaa

Jaya will be remembered for her largesse—giving away free gold to brides-to-be, free goats and milch cows to the poor, free mixers and grinders and the slew of Amma brand freebies and welfare schemes like the subsidised Amma canteens, Amma salt and Amma mineral water, among others.

She will also be remembered for her focus on maternal and child health, making Tamil Nadu one of the top performing states in terms of tackling malnutrition, delivery deaths and neo natal deaths.

The landmark Disproportionate Assets case of 1996 against Jayalalithaa

Sandhya Ravishankar is an independent journalist based in Chennai. She tweets at @sandhyaravishan

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines

Published: 06 Dec 2016, 12:20 AM