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Ammu to Amma: The life and times of Jayalalithaa Jayaraman

Like her movies the climax was riveting. Millions of admirers, detractors and people at large waited with bated breath, to see whether she would succeed for one last time.

twitter-logo Venkatesha Babu        Last Updated: December 6, 2016  | 09:49 IST
Ammu to Amma: The life and times of Jayalalithaa Jayaraman

Like her movies the climax was riveting. Millions of admirers, detractors and people at large waited with bated breath, to see whether she would succeed for one last time. Party workers and admirers thronged Apollo Hospital where she had been admitted for respiratory and diabetes related complications since September 22. However it was not to be.  The Iron Lady of Tamil Nadu who dominated her state's politics for nearly three decades leaves behind a power vaccum -  which at least her party - will find it difficult to fill. 

68-year-old, Jayalalithaa Jayaraman, the five time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is no more.

When she debuted as a heroine in  Kannada movie Chinnada Gombe (Golden Doll), few would have imagined  that this 15-year-old, shy high school student, fondly called Ammu by her family, would not only go onto rule the silver screen, but also the state of Tamil Nadu. Born in Pandavapura Taluk of Mandya District, the sugar-belt of Karnataka, to a Tamil Iyengar Brahmin family, for a quarter century she was one of the most prolific, highly paid and successful heroines in South India. She acted in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam movies.  

It was however her association with AIADMK founder and the hero of her several hit movies M G Ramachandran which drew her to politics. When MGR parted ways with DMK to launch his AIADMK, she was made the propaganda secretary. Given her excellent communication skills she was sent to Rajya Sabha specially as at that time AIADMK was a partner of Congress which was ruling at the Centre. After MGR's demise in 1987, Jayalalithaa had to fight with MGR's widow Janaki Ramachandran to inherit his political mantle. It was not an easy task as Dravidian politics has a sharp anti-Brahmin edge to it, for historical reasons.

In 1989, she lead a truncated AIADMK faction and was elected as the leader of the opposition in the assembly. An assault on her in the TN legislature by DMK MLA's garnered her much attention as 'woman who was wronged.' This incident, the coming together of AIADMK factions under her leadership plus the sympathy wave unleashed following Rajiv Gandhi's assisnation in 1991,  swept her party and its junior parter Congress to an unprecedented victory winning 225 of the 234 seats in assembly. Jayalalithaa was sworn in as the youngest CM of the state at age 43. Five years later, disgust at the ostentation displayed at her foster son V Sudakharan's marriage and allegations of corruption, she was voted out of office.

Only for her to storm back to power 5 years later in 2001. Legal troubles continued to plague her leading to demitting office and even stints in jail, only to be sworn back again, once those orders were quashed by higher courts. In keeping with Tamil Nadu's history of yo-yoing between the two major Dravidan parties, she lost power again in 2006, only to bounce back in 2011. Emulating the DMK she promised and more importantly, delivered on freebies like mixer grinders, fans, laptops and even gold for newborn girl child. Keeping in nature with the highly personalised style of governance, Amma canteens, Amma Gyms, Amma Salt, Amma Cement, Amma Vegetable Shops to Amma bottled water were setup. 

The populist policies and a divided opposition meant that in a surprise turn of events, Jayalalitha stormed back to power breaking the state's tendency to alternate a term for each of the major parties. She beat back anti-incumbency to be sworn in for a fifth time as the CM of the state in 2016. Even during the campaign, an visibly ill Jaya had limited her public appearances. She ran both the party and the government imperiously. With no clear number two to her, it would be interesting to see who emerges as the successor to her. The shy Ammu who became the Amma for her adoring party men and admirers, leaves a legacy which her party would find hard to fill.

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