Jayalalithaa: The 'iron lady' of Tamil Nadu politics

Written by Agencies | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 27 2014, 21:19pm hrs
JayalalithaaAffectionately called 'Amma', Jayalalithaa was very particular during last Assembly elections.
After suffering successive defeats in elections since 2004, AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa made a spectacular comeback in Tamil Nadu by shedding her rigid attitude and cobbling up a formidable alliance with once-not-so friendly actor Vijayakant and the Left parties.

On a massive mandate in 2011, Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK front unseated the DMK from power by bagging 200 seats and became chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the third time.

Affectionately called 'Amma', Jayalalithaa was very particular during last Assembly elections in not letting the anti-DMK votes get split and went out of her way to make room for allies. She proved her mettle once again by roping in smaller parties and caste-based outfits.

AIADMK was not at best of terms with Vijayakant, whose DMDK was widely seen as splitting the anti-DMK votes in the 2006 Assembly and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, till recently but the former Chief Minister reached out to the actor- politician and made him join her alliance to ensure DMK's ouster.

Known for taking hard and tough decisions either in government or in party affairs, Jayalalithaa is described as "iron lady" and "Margaret Thatcher of Tamil Nadu" by her followers.

Brought to public life by her mentor and AIADMK founder late M G Ramachandran to help her overcome the loss of her mother Sandhya, Jayalalithaa was first appointed a member of the nutritious noon meal scheme monitoring committee in 1982.

Jayalalithaa, a leading film actress before joining politics, was chosen Rajya Sabha member as the AIADMK's representative the same year after which she never looked back.

However, Jayalalithaa was removed as the AIADMK Propaganda Secretary by MGR in 1987, when he also sacked senior leader S D Somasundram from the party for anti-party activities.

Born to Sandhya and Jayaraman in Mysore, Jayalalithaa had her education at the Church Park Covent here and at the age of 15, she took to acting to support her family.

Making her film debut in well-known Director Sridhar's "Venniraadai", she acted in more than 300 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi in a career spanning three decades.

She had paired with all top heroes including her mentor MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, but most of her films were with MGR.

When MGR was busy with the governmental work, he wanted somebody to interact with the party cadre on his behalf and chose Jayalalithaa and made her party's propaganda secretary.

But MGR's move drew protests from the then party stalwarts like R M Veerappan and late S D Somasundram, who, however, later turned her followers when she first became chief minister in 1991.

Riding on a sympathy wave generated by the assassination of Indira Gandhi and illness of MGR, Jayalalithaa, even without being asked by party seniors, jumped into electioneering for the AIADMK-Congress alliance in the 1984 assembly polls.

She was the star campaigner for the party then as MGR was flown to United States for treatment. When MGR died in 1987, his wife Janaki became the chief minister for a brief period.

Claiming she was MGR's true political heir, Jayalalithaa split the party. In the then assembly election, her faction won 23 seats, while that of Janaki just one seat.

In the 1991 election, AIADMK and Congress forged an alliance. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi midway through the polls resulted in a sympathy wave for the Congress and anger against the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which was considered a supporter of the LTTE.

After she became the chief minister, Jayalalithaa's demand for a ban on LTTE was accepted by the Centre and she dealt with the law and order problems then with an iron hand.

Known for her pro-Hindutva leanings, Jayalalithaa was one of the few political leaders barring the BJP and Shiv Sena to openly support Kar Seva at Ayodhya.

Her first tenure as Chief Minister was marred by controversies, first when she conducted her foster son V N Sudhkaran's marriage extravagantly, then later when she accused the then prime minister P V Narashmiha Rao of being 'inept'.

But in 2001, she returned to power in Tamil Nadu and almost immediately began making overtures to the BJP, much to the discomfiture of its allies.

Jayalalithaa banned lottery tickets, dismissed 200,000 government employees at one go for going on a strike, stopped free power to farmers, increased the price of rice in the ration shops, cancelled ration cards of all those who earn more than Rs 5,000 per month, hiked power and bus charges, passed a law seeking to curb religious conversions, and banned animal sacrifices in temples.

But after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections when her party was trounced by the DMK-Congress combine in all the 39 seats, she allowed animal sacrifices in temples and restored free power supply to farmers.

She disliked criticism and has filed many defamation suits against various newspapers.

In her latest term as the chief minister, Jayalalithaa launched several populist schemes under Amma brand of products such as such as Amma Canteen that sells idlis for Rs 1, Amma Bottled Water for Rs 10, Amma Pharmacy that sells medicines at economical rates and Amma Cement at Rs 190 for low and middle income group.

The disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa has traversed, seeing legal and political twists and turns in the last 18 years after the DMK government decided to form Special Court on coming to power in 1996. Jayalalithaa was charged with accumulating Rs 66 crore wealth disproportionate to known sources of her income from 1991-96 in her first term as Chief Minister in the case that has seen many political and legal twists and turns.

With today's conviction, Jayalalithaa will have to step down as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Her close aide Sasikala Natarajan, her niece Ilavarasi and her nephew and the chief minister's disowned foster son Sudhakaran were also convicted in the case.