For her millions of fans and supporters, Jayalalithaa Jayaram’s legacy lies in her work as an able administrator in Tamil Nadu, the state she ruled for many years. But in the country’s political sphere, she will also be remembered for the mark she made as a Rajya Sabha member at a relatively young age.
It was in 1984 that Jayalalithaa – who passed away in Chennai on Monday -- entered Rajya Sabha at the age of 36, just a year older than the age required to be elected to the Upper House of Parliament.
And by many measures, she proved worthy of occupying seat number 185, which once belonged to the legendary Dravidian leader, CN Annaudrai, for many years in the Rajya Sabha.
“I deem it a great honour to stand here and speak on the floor of the very same Rajya Sabha where 22 years ago, in 1962, our great leader, departed leader Anna rose to make his forceful maiden speech which electrified the entire nation,” Jayalalithaa said during her maiden speech in Parliament on April 23, 1984.
“If Anna had electrified the entire country with his maiden speech, the theme of my maiden speech is electricity,” she said.
From the maiden speech, she made it a point to underscore who she represents or wants to represent -- the toiling masses, crores of humble workers and agriculture labourers. And her speech earned her praise from many, including then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Making the right impression was important for Jayalalithaa, who was then was considered far from being the true political inheritor of her mentor, MG Ramachandran.
Jayalalithaa too wore the pride of cultural nationalism centred around the Tamil language. In a calling attention motion on August 13, 1985, she made a passionate plea for translating the National Anthem into all Indian languages. She said the anthem should be sung in the regional languages, too.
Jayalalithaa also made a plea for treating some works of great Tamil poet Subramania Bharati as national songs.
“It will make the voice of India more truly representative of the entire nation, and it is the least the country can do to honour the great immortal poet who dedicated his whole life to the struggle for freedom,” she said.
During her tenure as MP, Jayalalitha spoke about the need to promote English as a language that unifies the country and Tamil as a classical language. Once she defended herself fiercely when her name figured in the list of actors against whose name income tax and wealth taxes were pending.
She made as many as 20 speeches in the House, including her interventions. The issues she spoke ranged from education, to taxation to Centre-state relationship to dowry ban.
However, for many in Delhi’s political circles, who know the chief minister very well, Jayalalithaa, were not too aware of her RS stint and the forceful manner she could put across her views.
This, perhaps, helped her in playing hardball, which she later did, when she was thrust with the role of a king-maker. She didn’t succeed always. But she fought to the very end.
In 1993, she withdrew support to the Congress government led by PV Narasimha Rao, turning it into a minority regime.
Years later, she did that again to the BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But even her support to Vajpayee a year earlier had come after hard bargaining.
Sitting in her office in faraway Chennai, Jayalalithaa had managed to create tremors in the nation’s capital, a measure of power she wielded.