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Jayalalithaa - the 'iron lady' who proved her mettle again

PTI  Chennai, May 13, 2011
First Published: 13:17 IST(13/5/2011) | Last Updated: 19:38 IST(13/5/2011)

After suffering successive defeats in elections since 2004, AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa has made a spectacular comeback in Tamil Nadu by shedding her rigid attitude and cobbling up a formidable alliance with once-not-so friendly actor Vijayakant and the Left parties.

Affectionately called 'Amma', the 63-year-old former Chief Minister was very particular this time in not letting the anti-DMK votes get split and went out of her way to make room for allies. She proved her mettle once again by roping in smaller parties and caste-based outfits.

AIADMK was not at best of terms with Vijayakant, whose DMDK was widely seen as splitting the anti-DMK votes in the 2006 Assembly and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, till recently but the former Chief Minister reached out to the actor-politician and made him join her alliance to ensure DMK's ouster. She will now become Chief Minister for the third time.

Jayalalithaa, a leading film actress before joining politics, took a lead in stitching the alliances and announcing party candidates when the DMK-led front was still grappling with seat-sharing talks with its ally Congress.

However, the AIADMK's chief's plan of launching her campaign early ran into a rough weather after her allies virtually threatened to pull out of the combine due to differences in constituencies alloted to them. Later, she hit the road from Srirangam, her ancestral town from where she romped home today.

And when the DMK announced freebies like mixer and grinder, she also joined the populist bandwagon and announced a slew of freebies, which neutralised the DMK's calculation of winning people's hearts by the manifesto.

Jayalalithaa, criticised for not sharing platform with her allies, proved them wrong this elections when she jointly addressed a huge public rally in Coimbatore with a battery of national and state leaders like CPI-M's Prakash Karat, CPI's Raja and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu. However, Vijayakant did not attend the rally, but sent his representative.

In a departure from her usual mode of campaigning, the AIADMK chief this time came out of her campaign vehicle and garnered votes for her alliance candidates. Usually, she sits inside the vehicle and addresses the public.

Also, the AIADMK reached out to the people by picking up issues like power cuts and alleged rowdyism at local level to strike a chord among the public. And it worked too as it is evident from the results.

Known for taking hard and tough decisions either in government or in party affairs, Jayalalithaa is described as "iron lady" and "Margaret Thatcher of Tamil Nadu" by her followers.

Brought to public life by her mentor and AIADMK founder late MG Ramachandran to help her overcome the loss of her mother Sandhya, Jayalalithaa was first appointed a member of the nutritious noon meal scheme monitoring committee in 1982.

She was chosen Rajya Sabha member as the AIADMK's representative the same year after which she never looked back.

However, Jayalalithaa was removed as the AIADMK Propaganda Secretary by MGR in 1987, when he also sacked senior leader S D Somasundram from the party for anti-party activities.

Born to Sandhya and Jayaraman in Mysore, Jayalalithaa had her education at the Church Park Covent here and at the age of 15, she took to acting to support her family.

Making her film debut in well-known Director Sridhar's "Venniraadai", she acted in more than 300 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi in a career spanning three decades.

She had paired with all top heroes including her mentor MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, but most of her films were with MGR.

When MGR was busy with the governmental work, he wanted somebody to interact with the party cadre on his behalf and chose Jayalalithaa and made her party's propaganda secretary.

But MGR's move drew protests from the then party stalwarts like RM Veerappan and late SD Somasundram, who, however, later turned her followers when she first became chief minister in 1991.

Riding on a sympathy wave generated by the assassination of Indira Gandhi and illness of MGR, Jayalalithaa, even without being asked by party seniors, jumped into electioneering for the AIADMK-Congress alliance in the 1984 assembly polls.

She was the star campaigner for the party then as MGR was flown to United States for treatment. When MGR died in 1987, his wife Janaki became the chief minister for a brief period.

Claiming she was MGR's true political heir, Jayalalithaa split the party. In the then assembly election, her faction won 23 seats, while that of Janaki just one seat.

In the 1991 election, AIADMK and Congress forged an alliance. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi midway through the polls resulted in a sympathy wave for the Congress and anger against the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which was considered a supporter of the LTTE.

After she became the chief minister, Jayalalithaa's demand for a ban on LTTE was accepted by the Centre and she dealt with the law and order problems then with an iron hand.

Known for her pro-Hindutva leanings, Jayalalithaa was one of the few political leaders barring the BJP and Shiv Sena to openly support Kar Seva at Ayodhya.

Her first tenure as Chief Minister was marred by controversies, first when she conducted her foster son V N Sudhkaran's marriage extravagantly, then later when she accused the then prime minister PV Narashmiha Rao of being 'inept'.

But in 2001, she returned to power in Tamil Nadu and almost immediately began making overtures to the BJP, much to the discomfiture of its allies.


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