J Jayalalithaa towered over Tamil Nadu politics, leading the state for several years and ruling over one of the biggest regional parties in India with an iron fist. But the leader whose political clout spread far beyond the state hardly spent time in Delhi to fuel national ambitions.
However, whenever she was in the national capital, she left her mark.
The six-time chief minister had always kept her adversaries—and even friends—guessing about her next move.
Consider this: Jayalalithaa enjoyed an excellent rapport with former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. But in 1998, she said Sonia Gandhi would be a “national tragedy” as a PM candidate. A year later, Jayalalithaa attended the now-famous tea party organised by Subramanian Swamy and sat next to Sonia Gandhi, describing her as an “old friend”.
She was upset with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and tried to join hands with the rivals.
One leader, however, was always in her good books -- Biju Janata Dal chief and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
“She treated Naveen as her younger brother because Biju Patnaik, Naveen’s father, always treated Jayalalithaa as his sister,” said Bhartruhari Mahtab, BJD’s floor leader in Lok Sabha.
So much so that in 2012, Jayalalithaa and Patnaik were the first to propose PA Sangma’s name as a candidate for President. Later, the two leaders found support from BJP and some other parties for their candidate even as Sangma’s own party, NCP, decided to vote against him.
Only a few leaders could approach her and negotiate on political issues.
Former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat was one of them. One of the pivotal forces of the non-Congress, non-BJP political camp, Karat maintained a good rapport with her.
The Left, with its disproportionate importance and clout in Tamil Nadu, still managed to forge a pact with her party, AIADMK, for assembly and Lok Sabha polls. But in 2011, Jayalalithaa snapped the ties at the last moment.
As the Left prepared to put up a solo fight, a politburo member told this correspondent, “We are fighting for the sake of fighting. We don’t see much chance without (the) AIADMK in Tamil Nadu polls.”
In 2016, she offered just one seat each to CPI(M) and the CPI—a condition unacceptable to both parties.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also enjoyed excellent relations with Jayalalithaa. She was the first CM to welcome the BJP’s announcement of Modi as its PM candidate. Modi reciprocated and went to Chennai to attend her swearing in ceremony this year.
When the Modi government was racing against time to push through the 122nd Constitutional amendment bill to roll out the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Jayalalithaa came to his rescue. Modi’s trusted lieutenant, Union minister Venkaiah Naidu went to Chennai to plead with Amma. And she obliged.