Despite being one of India’s most talked-about politicians, J Jayalalithaa gave very few personal interviews in her lifetime.
Outside of political rallies or tightly controlled press conference, Amma was rarely seen in public.
However, this interview with Simi Garewal is an exception .She talked candidly about her childhood and staying separated from her mother for several years. She even admitted to having a crush on cricketer Nari Contractor and actor Shami Kapoor.
By her own admission, her acting career in the 60s, although successful was not entirely enjoyable. She calls herself a natural actress, but was actually forced into acting by her mother. Despite it not being a profession of her choice, her drive to excel and perform superlatively well in anything that she took up, led her to success in the film industry.
“After mother died, he (MGR) took over my life”
Talking about her relationship with MGR, with whom she did 28 movies, she said that although she was not in awe of him, he was definitely a dominating figure in her life. This 1998 article in the Outlook, details her turbulent equation with MGR. According to several insiders, he was constantly suspicious of her as she was a ‘very independent woman and acted out of her own volition.’ After the duo patched up their relationship in 1981, she was made the propaganda secretary and later even the Rajya Sabha MP. However, MGR remained suspicious and when he came to know of her attempts to take hold of the party following his stroke in 1984, he stripped her of her post.
Outlook quotes an interview she gave during this time which reflected her political ambitions -
MGR has been a great influence in my life, I don’t deny that. But now I am my own person. I have evolved. Hereafter, I am responsible only for myself. Never again will anybody influence me to such an extent that all my thoughts and actions and statements are influenced and made in a particular way just because someone else wants it that way.
In the second part of her interview to Simi Garewal, she spoke about her struggle to lead AIADMK after MGR’s death in 1984. She talked about the mudslinging and the vilification that she had to face from the rival factions to establish her leadership in the party.
This even played out during the funeral. In her interview to Prabhu Chawla of India Today, Jayalalithaa said that she was physically abused during the funeral, despite which she stood by her leader’s body for two days.
Seven or eight ladies, I wouldn't name them, landed up on the morning of the second day, stood by me, and started stamping on my feet, driving their nails into my skin, pinching me, and so on. Except for my face which was spared because it was visible, they attacked me everywhere else. Then, when the body was taken inside Rajaji Hall for the performance of the last rites by the family, I wasn't allowed there
She was later assaulted by Deepan, the nephew of MGR’s wife, when she attempted to place a wreath on MGR’s body. She ended the interview talking about her future within the AIADMK
I will carry the message of Anna and MGR to the people. When Anna died. MGR was only the treasurer of the DMK number four in the party. Now without MGR, as party propaganda secretary, I am number five.
The Huffington Post carried excerpt’s of Vaasanthi’s book Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen where she talked about the events of 28th January 1988, when ruckus broke out in the Legislative Assembly when the newly sworn in Chief Minister and wife of MGR, Janaki was required to prove majority. Despite 97 MLAs supporting her, goons entered the assembly and began assaulting the pro-Jayalalithaa faction. According to the author, it was the first time that the police had to enter the assembly to control the situation. Finally it was the government that won.
When Jayalalithaa was informed about the rumpus in the Assembly she knew there was no time to waste. She issued a statement that democracy had been murdered and appealed to the Governor to dismiss Janaki's ministry immediately. The protesting AIADMK MLAs, along with the local Congress members, met the Governor and gave a detailed report of what had transpired. The Governor in turn sent his report to the Centre, recommending that the situation in Tamil Nadu demanded the dismissal of the government and the proclamation of emergency. The Centre accepted the Governor's recommendation.
With President’s rule in place for almost a year, elections were held in 1989, which were swept by the DMK. But despite the loss, it was the election that finally cemented her position in the party. The News Minute’s Anna Isaac writes –
what cost Janaki the election was not only her lack of aggression but her outright praise of MGR’s arch-rival, Karunanidhi – something an average AIADMK voter is unable to stomach. By marking Karunanidhi as her political adversary, Jayalalithaa ended up with 27 seats against Janaki’s 2.
In this interview to India Today, just before the elections took place, when asked who is her enemy number one in the state she said-
The DMK. It is going to be a fight between me and Karunanidhi.
“Left to myself, I wouldn’t have chosen either of these careers.”
And since then AIADMK has been ruled by Jayalalithaa with an iron fist as she went on to become the Chief Minister of the state in 1991, 2001, 2011 and finally in 2016.
In a 1999 interview with NDTV’s Jennifer Arul, she said that she did not have much of a choice in her career and that the only reason she was in politics is because of MGR. She also defended herself against allegations of causing instability in the government by saying that her first priority is Tamil Nadu and that she refused to be backed down or cowed down.
According to India Today profile, her Chief Ministerial tenures were always controversial. Beginning from 1991 when she conducted a lavish wedding for her foster son Sudhakar to 2001, she continued to make drastic moves -
Jayalalithaa banned lottery tickets, dismissed 200,000 government employees at one go for going on a strike, stopped free power to farmers, increased the price of rice in the ration shops, cancelled ration cards of all those who earn more than Rs 5,000 per month, hiked power and bus charges, passed a law seeking to curb religious conversions, and banned animal sacrifices in temples.
She was convicted in several graft cases. In 2001 NDTV followed her on the campaign trail in Srirangam. Despite being barred from contesting the elections because of convictions in the TANSI and Pleasant Stay Hotel case she said that she is happy to be the star campaigner for the party and said that she was overwhelmed by the support and love that people have shown her.
Even as recent as 2014, she was sentenced to four years in prison after she was found guilty by a Special Court in Bangalore in a disproportionate assets case filed by Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy.
Known to be fiery speaker, several verbal duels between her and her political rivals have played out in the Assembly including this one with her former ally DMDK leader Vijayakanth. When criticised about hikes in bus fare and milk prices, the argument escalated and led her to even say that she was ashamed to have formed an alliance with them.
Under her leadership the AIADMK has always had an opportunistic relationship with the Congress and the BJP, but much of her political career has been defined by her enmity with Karunanidhi and the DMK.
Not many will forget these visuals of Karunanidhi being arrested in June 2001 on Jayalalithaa’s orders. According to The Hindu
Her fight was with the DMK president and his son, the Chennai Mayor, Mr. M. K. Stalin. Since she wanted both to be held at the same time, it had to be a case relating to the Chennai Corporation. And the flyovers, the biggest project of the Corporation, fitted the bill. By June 29, everything was set for what in her view was a simple instance of tit-for- tat: to pay back DMK leaders who had her arrested and convicted for corruption.
“I don't have any other interest in life other than working for the people of Tamil Nadu.”
Known for her dog headedness in pursuing her political goals, Jayalalithaa has etched an important place in history as a fighter. After two successive electoral victories, in 2016, she gave an emotional victory speech –
After 1984, no ruling party in the state has been able to win an election and form the government for a successive term. I don't have any other interest in life other than working for the people of Tamil Nadu. My life is dedicated to the people of Tamil Nadu.
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