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Jayalalithaa defied the conventional logic of Tamil Nadu politics

J Jayalalithaa defied the conventional logic of Tamil Nadu politics when she got elected as chief minister a second time in a row in 2016. Her political graph projected a sharp peak that could have reached the Prime Minister’s chair, writes Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Jaya unwell Updated: Dec 06, 2016 10:38 IST
Former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa’s body is kept for public viewing outside an auditorium in Chennai, on December 6, 2016.
Former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa’s body is kept for public viewing outside an auditorium in Chennai, on December 6, 2016. (AP)

I had followed the political graph of J Jayalalithaa Ji very closely. The way she struggled to come up in the highly competitive politics of Tamil Nadu and ultimately rose to become an iconic leader of the state is something of a legend.

I had seen her speak with clarity -- perfect voice and diction -- with a remarkable facility of expression in English many times. We came to know each other, rather well, when I was the information and broadcasting minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. In that connection, we had to debate, discuss and, at times, strongly differ on many issues, concerning television rights.

These engagements created an enormous amount of goodwill, which continued throughout. I can recall one particular incident when the community radio of Tamil Nadu was being inaugurated at the Madras University in 2003, where apart from Jayalalithaa Ji, the then deputy prime minister LK Advani was also present. The inaugural welcome was done by me and when I completed my speech, she said, “You spoke very well. I am happy”. Later, there was a meeting with Jayalalithaa Ji at her Poes Garden residence, as a prelude to the alliance between AIADMK and BJP for the 2004 Lok Sabha election.

While having dinner, she suddenly asked me, “Which state are you from, Mr Prasad?” Hearing this Advani ji smiled and told her that I am from Bihar. She reacted, “Oh! From Lalu’s land and yet Ravi has such good English!” All of us laughed.

Read | Jayalalithaa’s journey from an actor to Tamil Nadu’s political star

Our friendship grew further and whenever she would come to Delhi or I would visit Chennai, depending on her convenience, we used to meet. Thereafter, I also became prabhari of Tamil Nadu BJP and this enabled us to meet frequently. I distinctly remember once she called Narendra Modi Ji, the then chief minister of Gujarat, for lunch because he had come for the annual function of Thuglak (magazine) of Cho Ramaswamy. She also invited me. What a grand South Indian lunch she had organised: having 48 dishes.

It was a very joyful meeting between the two leaders and then I asked her what I should tell the media, which was waiting, having surrounding her Poes Garden residence. “A 48-dish lunch in itself is a big news’” she replied with a smile.

In one of my meetings, I asked her did she ever think of joining the legal profession. I also ventured to ask this question as I was also her lawyer in two cases before the Madras high court and two before the Supreme Court. She used to give me good suggestions during the meeting. I asked her that in view of the clarity of issue that she had, did she ever thought about joining the legal profession. “Oh, I would have loved to become a lawyer, I was very keen also but my background and family persuasions made me an actress.”

I remember, after I became a minister in the Modi government, I had gone to meet her to explain Tamil Nadu’s IT potential. It was a friendly meeting and I was touched by her welcome gesture towards me.

One thing I noticed was that, her understanding of agenda was clear and categorical. She had a very significant role to play in the evolution of Tamil Nadu and areas in and around Chennai as a big automobile hub, inviting best brands to the manufacturing sector.

I distinctly remember one incident she narrated to me; that once, as chief minister, she noticed a lady constable drenched in rain. She ordered that all of them be given proper rain coats and umbrellas.

Some of the noble schemes that came about for the poor, including provision for food items at cheaper rates, are outstanding examples of her pro-poor initiatives and I was quite impressed by that.

She had extraordinary interest in books, particularly biographies and we used to discuss a lot of this matter of common interest.

When Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was sworn in as President of India, it somehow happened that she did not get the invite for the swearing in ceremony on time. She was upset and I called her to explain that there was no intent not to invite her. She told me that she knew that civil servants only were to be blamed for this.

When Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was elected vice-president, I made it a point that she was properly invited and on time. And what a great hit she was at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

When she defied the conventional logic of Tamil Nadu politics, which says any party never returns to power, and got elected as chief minister for second time in a row in 2016, she surely had a long and fruitful life ahead. I am deeply pained personally by her untimely demise. Her legacy and many of her contributions in the polity of Tamil Nadu and the country and some of the developmental agenda she initiated will always be remembered by the posterity. My Pranaam to Puratchi Thalaivi. May her soul rest in peace.

(The writer is the Union minister of law & justice.)

(As told to Kumar Uttam)

Also read | ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa, a saga of grit and determination with few parallels