Tamil Nadu: Tracing Jayalalithaa's journey from starlet to chief minister
AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa has cemented her image as a fighter despite challenges that haunted her in the form of corruption cases.
Chennai: Fighting heavy odds, J Jayalalithaa proved her detractors wrong again with her grit and determination as she steered AIADMK to power for a second consecutive term, bucking the tradition since 1984 when no party has retained power in Tamil Nadu.
The 68-year-old AIADMK supremo, known as 'Puratchi Thalaivi' (Revolutionary Leader), has cemented her image as a fighter despite challenges that haunted her in the form of corruption cases forcing her to quit twice, only to make a comeback.
Though she had MG Ramachandran (MGR) as her mentor, she struggled in her initial days in the party and went on to became its general secretary, a post she has held since 1989.
She vowed in 1989 not to return to Assembly unless she is the chief minister and is now preparing to be sworn-in for the sixth time.
The Opposition's attempt to target her as being "inaccessible" and "authoritarian" have failed to dent the image of Jayalalithaa who started a multitude of welfare schemes like the Amma canteen- a low cost food chain, Amma water and Amma pharmacies.
Her present regime is also noted for freebies like twenty kilograms of free rice for ration card holders, free mixers, grinders, milch cows, goats and "Thalikku Thangam", four grams of gold for Mangalsutra which she has promised to increase to eight grams if she is voted back to power.
She also promised free mobile phones for all ration card holders this time.
However, her handling of flood situation came in for criticism with DMK alleging that "Jayalalithaa did not even meet the flood victims and console them" and raking up issues like alleged "insistence of AIADMK partymen to paste her sticker in relief materials."
But Jayalalithaa, who returned as chief minister a year ago after acquittal in disproportionate assets case, emerged unscathed again with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which had won 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014, continuing to hold sway in the Assembly election.
Her victory is extraordinary given the political history of Tamil Nadu that bets often on the "Dravidian" theory, and regales in anti-Brahmin rhetoric.
Known for her bold decision making, she famously remarked after assuming office as chief minister for the second time that "I am a ringmaster" making things work by motivating government officials.
A teen starlet who made her cinema debut in CV Sridhar-directed 'Vennira Aadai' (white dress) in 1956, Jayalalithaa became a popular actress and did 30 films alone with matinee idol MGR who later became her political mentor and in 1982 inducted her into AIADMK which he founded.
She worked her way up in the party though factional leaders targeted her. She was appointed propaganda secretary in 1983.
In the mid 1980s, then Hindu Religious Endowments Minister RM Veerappan and Agriculture Minister K Kalimuthu were at the forefront of opposing her within the party and they did not take it lightly when she was reappointed propaganda secretary by MGR.
Kalimuthu even infamously alleged once that Jayalalithaa was conspiring to end 'Dravidian rule' in Tamil Nadu.
MGR later got her elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1984 and she managed to win the support of many party functionaries.
She went on to lead a faction that stood by her after the AIADMK split following MGR's death in 1987. The other faction was led by VN Janaki, wife of MGR.
She successfully contested the Tamil Nadu Assembly election in 1989 from Bodinayakkanur and became the first woman leader of opposition in the House and under her leadership the AIADMK group won 27 seats with Janaki group managing to win only two.
When the party later united in 1989 she became the general secretary of the unified AIADMK, the top party post which she continues to hold to this day and is known for her deft handling of party affairs.
As Leader of the Opposition, she decided not to go the House following the infamous episode in the House on 25 March, 1989 when her saree was pulled and DMK president and then chief minister Karunanidhi's spectacle was broken in a clash between the AIADMK and DMK members.
Jayalalithaa vowed to return to the Tamil Nadu Assembly only as the chief minister in 1989 though many were convinced that she could achieve it.
She went on to become chief minister not for once but for five times (1991-96, May-Sept 2001, 2002-06, 2011-14, 2015-16).
In 1991, she stitched up an alliance with Congress and a sympathy wave spurred by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi landed her party a landslide victory, with Jayalalithaa making her debut as chief minister. She was elected from Bargur constituency.
Ironically, her first tenure (1991-96) continues to haunt her even today as it was marked by several corruption allegations like the TANSI case and even the disproportionate assets case pending now in the Supreme Court has its origins to this period.
There were allegations that her aide Sasikala's family was calling the shots in all aspects of government and the extravagant wedding of her later disowned foster son VN Sudhakaran in 1995 became a sort of an indelible imprint against her on the alleged failure and insensitivity of her first regime.
Riding on anti-incumbency, she, however, came back to power in 2001 with her party winning 132 seats. But her appointment as CM was quashed by the Supreme Court vis-a-vis the TANSI case and she was unseated though she eventually made a comeback as CM in 2002 after getting elected from Andipatti.
Though her party lost polls in 2006, AIADMK emerged victorious in 61 seats that year and became a powerful opposition party.
DMK had won 96 seats and with the support of allies like Congress (which had won 34 seats) the Karunanidhi-led party managed to sail through. Often she taunted the DMK regime as a "minority government" throughout its five year tenure (2006-11).
In 2011 Assembly election, issues like the 2G Spectrum Scam, and the 2009 killings of Tamils in the Sri Lankan civil war helped her to trounce the DMK and make a dramatic comeback to power.
During 2011-16, she was careful to implement a multitude of welfare schemes and big ticket projects like the drinking water schemes for Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri and Vellore Districts.
Jayalalithaa did her studies at the Bishop Cotton Girls' High School in Bangalore and later at the Presentation Convent Church Park in Chennai.
Though she got a scholarship from the Central government for higher studies after completing her matriculation in 1964, she opted for a career in the film world.
She went on to act in South Indian language movies including Tamil. She is well-versed in several Indian languages including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi besides English.
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