J Jayalalithaa: From teen starlet to Iron Lady politician of Tamil Nadu

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Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha died on Monday of cardiac arrest. She was 68.

The story of J Jayalalithaa: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.

Jayalalithaa
Jayalalitha

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 MGRs 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.

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As Leader of the Opposition, she decided not to go the House following the infamous episode in the House on March 25, 1989 when her saree was pulled and DMK president and then Chief Minister Karunanidhis 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 Sasikalas 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.

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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 here.

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.

Jayalalithaa, who scored a historic win in the assembly elections in the state little over six months ago, was admitted to Apollo Hospitals on September 22 with fever and dehydration but she could never recover.

A tinsel heroine, who inherited the legacy of her mentor late MGR, had entered politics in the early 1980s as the propaganda secretary of AIADMK and was made the incharge of the noon meal scheme undertaken by the MGR government.

Born in a Brahmin family, Jayalalithaa emerged as a fiesty leader in a state where forces of social justice had thrown up an anti-Brahmin political movement even before independence.

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She practised politics on her own terms and was one of the two poles in the state for nearly 30 years fighting the DMK headed by redoubtable M Karunanidhi.

Only hours earlier in the evening, the hospital had denied reports that Jayalalithaa had died as “baseless and false” when TV channels said she was no more.

“It is with indescribable grief, we announce the sad demise of our esteemed Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Puratchi Thalaivi Amma at 11.30 PM today,” Apollo Hospitals said in a statement.

“Our honourable Chief Minister Selvi J Jayalalithaa was admitted on 22.9.2016 with complaints of fever and dehydration and underlying co-morbidities. The honourable Chief Minister responded well to the multi-disciplinary care in the Critical Care Unit and subsequently recovered substantially to being able to take food orally.

“On this basis, honourable Chief Minister was shifted from the Advanced Critical Care Unit to the High Dependency Unit, where her health and vitals continued to improve under the close monitoring by our expert panel of specialists.”

Unfortunately, the hospital release said, the Chief Minister suffered a massive cardiac arrest on the evening of December 4 even while the intensivist was in her room. The Chief Minister was immediately administered rescusitation (CPR) and provided ECMO support within the hour.

ECMO is the most advanced treatment currently available internationally. Every possible clinical attempt was made to sustain her revival. However, despite our best efforts, the Chief Minister’s underlying conditions rendered her unable to recover and she passed away at 11:30 pm on Monday, the release said.

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