Lakhs of people bid farewell to Dr.J.Jayalalithaa yesterday as she was buried next to her mentor, MGR in Chennai with full state honours. Cutting across party lines, political leaders from Tamil Nadu and other states thronged Rajaji Hall to pay their last respects. With a thriving career in films and later in politics, the better part of her life was lived in the public eye. Tributes to her life and achievements have inundated local and national media.
Sruthisagar Yamunan tracks the rise of Amma from the 1980s in this article in Scroll. Referring to her as a doughty fighter, he explains how she became one of the most iconic figures of the male dominated dravidian movement, despite being a brahmin woman.
Since 1984, the state has alternated between the AIADMK and the DMK every five years. MGR was the last chief minister to win two consecutive terms. While she could never be as popular as her mentor, this feat has definitely put her in the elite league of which MGR was the only member in the Dravidian pantheon.
Contrasting the politics of DMK and the AIADMK under her leadership, Yamunan writes that it was her shrewd political mind that led to various populist schemes, undoubtedly the reason for her mass appeal –
Jayalalithaa steadily cultivated the image of the benevolent mother, or amma, who showered on her people all that they wanted. Unlike the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which mostly favoured grand infrastructure monuments, Jayalalithaa’s realm was the personal. Every scheme she announced was consciously created to touch the lives of the people, especially women. The Amma products that her government released, from canteens and salt to water bottles and maternity kits, reflected a shrewd political idea that direct benefits always left a lasting impression.
Venkatachari Jagannathan also provides an account of the rise of Jayalalithaa from a reluctant actress to a politician in this article in Sify. Many have spoken about her tumultuous relationship with the Congress and the BJP, but no one denies her abilities as a leader.
S. Thirunavukarasar, President of the Congress in Tamil Nadu and an old timer in the AIADMK, explained why Jayalalithaa succeeded the way she did. "She was very bold, intelligent and shrewd, three important qualities for a politician," Thirunavukarasar told IANS. "She was charismatic and could attract and convince people. She was also an able administrator."
India Today also notes that political leaders cutting across party lines paid to Jayalalithaa. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor wrote -
She combined the charisma of hugely popular movies star with authority in politics. She dominated the man's world. We saw cabinet ministers prostrating in front of her. She was quite imperious as a leader with an unquestionable authority.
Even her political opponents in the state, like MDMK leader Vaiko gave an impassioned speech at her funeral. Talking about the loss of his ‘sister’, he said lakhs of poor and ordinary people are saddened, as they would be if they lost one of their own family members. Vaiko recalled his turbulent political history with the DMK but said that the mutual respect never waned. Calling her courageous and a fighter, he said that even when she was threatened by goondas during a film shooting in Mysore to say ‘long live Kannada’, she stood her ground and said that she was a proud Tamilian.
Son of her arch rival Karunanidhi, DMK’s M.K Stalin paid his respects and spelt out her contributions and her dedication to duty. Praising her perseverance and fighting spirit, he expressed condolences on behalf of the party.
There have always been criticisms against her style of governance, as she was known to frequently shuffle the cabinet and was always distrusting. But as Prachi Salve points out in The Wire, despite being known for providing a record number of freebies, under her administration several health and welfare indicators have been favourable. Maternal mortality, infant mortality, literacy rates and crimes against women and children are low and are amongst the top most in the country. Some of the most successful schemes, however, have meant an increase in the state’s debt.
Her 2011 election promises included 100 units of free electricity to every household, a free laptop for class 11 and class 12 students (with free internet connections), a gram of sovereign gold as marriage assistance, and four goats/sheep to families who lived below the poverty line. The laptops had images of “Amma (mother)”, as Jayalalithaa was popularly known. Other programmes also carried that name, such as Amma canteens (for subsidised food) and Amma medicals (for subsidised medicines).
Dr.Amalorpavanathan Jospeh who was appointed as the convenor for the Cadaver Transplant programme by the DMK government shared his thoughts on her contributions to medical field, particularly in relation to the organ transplant movement.
According to him, despite having been a programme started by the rival government, she nurtured it and never once interfered with its functioning. He concludes -
She was a superb politician. She was the single cause to drive commercial, illegal transplants out of TN.
She was a glamorous actor who cannot, by definition, be taken seriously. Above all, she was a woman trying to ascend to power in 1980s in Tamilnadu. An unmarried, childless woman. To put it in context, she was not only walking a path of thorns, she did it in an oxygen less chamber while her arms and legs were tied. It’s a feat that she survived at all, not to mention that she actually thrived (sic)
From a shy and vulnerable 17 year old in “Vennira Aadai” – her first Tamil movie – Jayalalithaa’s evolution as an actor is in itself a story. “Vennira Aadai” – where she plays a mentally unstable patient who falls in love with her psychiatrist – was proof enough for her histrionic talent. To carry a role of that kind at that age should have been a challenge but Jayalalithaa pulled it off with her characteristic élan
With some stellar performances in unconventional roles for a heroine, she won several Tamil Nadu state awards and Filmfare awards.
Jayalalithaa won the Tamil Nadu State film award for best actress in 1971 for her performance in “Thanga Gopuram” where she marries a man as old as her father. “Anadhai Aanandhan” – loosely based on Oliver Twist – saw yet another stellar performance from her. In “Adimai Penn”, she played a role in which she educates and trains MGR (who is forced to live in a two feet cell) on the basics of life.
For many, Tamil Nadu with Jayalalithaa is hard to imagine and while people recall her fascinating life and journey, it leaves behind the inevitable question - what is in store for the state’s political future with her gone.