The passing away of 68-year-old long serving Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram on December 5 evoked among her supporters the expected tsunami of grief.
She had been ill in hospital since being admitted with a fever in September. Hundreds of people had mounted a round-the-clock vigil at the hospital since she was admitted. This crowd of supporters swelled on December 4 as her condition worsened. It was left to her party, the AIADMK, to mournfully announce the sad news that the “Iron Lady of India…beloved…Amma, is no more.” Jayalalithaa was known popularly in her home state as Amma (mother). Jayalalithaa started her career as a popular Tamil cinema heroine. She was introduced to politics by her cinema screen partner M G Ramachandran commonly known as MGR, also an actor-turned-politician, and went on to serve as chief minister of Tamil Nadu five times.
She enjoyed a god-like stature, as did MGR, with Tamilians in India and elsewhere, with her ministers on occasion prostrating themselves at her feet. The reclusive leader was said to run her party with an iron hand and failed to leave any clear line of succession to govern the South Indian state that is home to major auto and IT outsourcing businesses. Jayalalithaa during her long political career garnered the loyalty of many voters in Tamil Nadu through a series of highly popular schemes, including the well-known “Amma canteens” providing lunch for just Rs 3, taking a leaf out of MGR’s book who introduced free meal schemes in schools to increase student enrolment in a poverty-stricken state.
She was also one of the most polarising figures in Indian politics, accused of being dictatorial and even being jailed for corruption. Her conviction in 2014, overturned later on appeal, evoked such emotion that several of her supporters resorted to self-harm and even reportedly some committed suicides amidst widespread mass protests.
Jayalalithaa combined in her person the melding of art and politics, in both of which she was a high achiever. Her devoted supporters dismissed the corruption charges against her as the motivated work of rivals. In their eyes, Amma could do no wrong. This conviction sprang from her pro-people policies and welfare steps. The charges of corruption were washed away by the adulatory worship she evoked amongst her supporters for all she had done for them in her repeated tenures.
There may never again be the like of Jayalalithaa Jayaram on the political horizon of Tamil Nadu, India, or indeed the wider world. Her charisma fed off the Hindu cultural penchant for anointing deities with gifts of gold and other precious commodities. Whether that culture was at the heart of her alleged corruption is an enigma she takes with her to the grave.
Love her or hate her, there is no denying the giant stature of Jayalalithaa Jayaram, who for so long defined her state and shone on India’s political firmament. – Business Recorder