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Adored and also despised, halo falls off Jayalalithaa

J Jayalalithaa’s life of power and pomp echoes much of the melodrama of the films she once acted in, a turbulent script of rising and falling, adulation and abuse that didn’t quite have a happy ending. Poll: Who will gain politically in Tamil Nadu?

india Updated: Sep 28, 2014 10:41 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times
Jayalalithaa,Tamil nadu,DA case

Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s life of power and pomp echoes much of the melodrama of the films she once acted in, a turbulent script of and falling and rising and of abuse and adulation.

The happy ending, however, isn’t quite in sight in the latest scene.

Watch:AIADMK supporters resort to violence after verdict

The 66-year-old was brought into politics in the late 1980s by former Tamil movie star and state chief minister, MG Ramachandran, better known as MGR, with whom she starred in more than 100 films.

Three years after MGR’s death in 1988, she took over his All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khazagham (AIADMK) party, galvanising the support of the rural poor to become chief minister of the state thrice, the first time in 1991.

A Brahmin, she became chief of the Dravidian party with strong anti-Brahmin ideology. This marked an important milestone in her fascinating transformation from “Ammu” (used in Malayalam for daughter and as she was called by MGR fondly) to “Amma” (Mother to her legion of supporters).

Criticise or condemn her, politicians across party lines have a healthy respect for her. They fear her too.

Every political formation in the country, be it the Congress, the BJP or the Left, have at one time or other been fellow passengers in her political train of thought and action.

Read: AIADMK govt safe, but Amma staring at 10-year exile

Criticism is something Jayalalithaa does not take too kindly. She has prevented publication of a book on her life story — Jayalalithaa A Portrait — by Tamil writer Vaasanthi, saying it contains highly objectionable material.

“She has brought a permanent injunction against publication of the book,” Vaasanthi told HT, claiming the book was favourable to her.

The book took two years to research and write and was ready for release to coincide with Jayalalithaa’s swearing in as chief minister in 2011. “But it may never see the light of the day now,” Vaasanthi said.

She found many takers for her brand of governance in her latest stint. The industry sees in her a tough and no-nonsense administrator. She, however, fell short in delivery – especially in the power sector.

“Distinctly, her present regime is far better than her previous two avatars as chief minister,” Ramachandran Ganapathi, an IIT Madras alumni and chairman of an IT company, says.

The ghost of the past that has come to haunt Jayalalithaa now can be traced to 1996. It had hurt her before, it has hurt her again.

The 1996 ostentatious wedding for her foster son and a lavish display of personal wealth proved to her undoing — it evoked revulsion among people and eventually cost her the elections that year.

And once out of power, her arch-rival DMK filed cases alleging that she amassed Rs 66.65 crore. At the time she took just Re 1 as salary as chief minister. Critics said her assets of Rs 3 crore in 1991 had become Rs 66.65 crore by 1996.

Her display of wealth was once legendary, and many of her followers were known to profess their loyalty through acts such as walking on hot coals or drawing her portrait with their blood.

Read: Jayalalithaa sentenced to 4 years jail in corruption case; clashes in Tamil Nadu

Jayalalithaa was charged with amassing illegal wealth in 1997, when police seized assets including 28 kilos of gold, 750 pairs of shoes and more than 10,000 saris in a raid on her home.

Prosecutors said her assets, which reportedly included two 1,000-acre estates in the lush tropical state she ran, were vastly disproportionate to her earnings during her first term as chief minister from 1991 to 1996.

The discovery was in stark contrast to the image cultivated by the politician.

First Published: Sep 27, 2014 19:06 IST