One of India’s most iconic political faces, J Jayalalithaa, 68, passed away at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai following a 75 day prolonged stay at the hospital and an irreparable cardiac arrest over the last 24 hours. The news has engulfed the state into a state of shock for the Dravidian leader was a force to reckon with.
Jayalalithaa Jayaraman life was a challenging one right from her childhood. The icon who was later referred to as Amma and Puratchi Thalaivi by members in her party AIADMK was born on 24th February 1948 in Mandya District, now in Karnataka. She lost her father at two years of age and with her mother moved to Chennai. It was here that Jayalalithaa explored the field of acting on insistence of her mother and began her career on screen at just an early-teen age of 13.
Jayalalithaa created a cult, one that’s unlikely to rest for centuries. Jayalalithaa credited her political introduction to MG Ramachandran who was an established (one with a cult status himself) actor turned politician. MGR has been impressed with Jayalalithaa’s charisma and English and consequently her political ambition. In 1982, Jayalalithaa joined the AIADMK, which was founded by Ramachandran.
Reportedly in her maiden public speech, “Pennin Perumai” The Greatness of a Woman, was delivered at the AIADMK’s political conference in the same year and in 1983 she became propaganda secretary for the party. After MGR’s death, the state’s law and law went for a toss. But his death brought Jayalalitha a great following. Soon afterwards, she won the elections to the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly in 1989 and became the first woman leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu.
The fateful incident of Jayalalitha’s saree being pulled and torn in the assembly brought her some publicity and bred negative sentiments against DMK. She rode the wave and won the election in 1991. She became the first female chief minister of Tamil Nadu to serve a full term. Jayalalitha was also the youngest.
SHE THE PEOPLE
Jayalalithaa though almost always surrounded by an army of men aside of her aide Sasikala was considered an iron lady who kept law and order in the state under control.
A believer in women’s empowerment, Jayalalitha, in her very first term brought in changes to the system. She was the first to introduce over 50 police stations run solely by women. She also introduced a 30% quota for women in police jobs. This trend was extended to public places like a library as well.
In early 2000s she led the charge against the then rampant problem of eve-teasing which had led to deaths of many young girls. When Jayalalithaa came to power, she cracked down on these issues promoting a better environment for women in colleges and even asking female cops to accompany some of the buses.
Secrecy was Jayalalithaa’s forte and it was something she and her party exercised great control over. Outside of her acting career, there is little known about her personal life after she took up full time politics. Other than her aide Sasikala – whom she broke off with in 2012 in what was clearly a very public split – Jayalalithaa kept her cards close to herself. She was known to be tight fisted, astute and shrewd about her political matters.