By Harihar Swarup
Few persons have seen so many ups and downs in politics and personal life as Jayalalithaa. She touches the lowest ebb and yet bounces back with renewed vigor. She has enormous capacity to turn an adversarial situation to her advantage. Recall the March 1989 episode in Tamil Nadu assembly where she was manhandled and even attempt was made to disrobe her by some DMK legislators. She portrayed the event as Draupadi versus Duryodhana (Karunanidhi) fight and won wide sympathy. Finally she emerged victorious to become the chief minister in 1991.
In December, 1987, M G Ramachandran(MGR) passed away. During his funeral procession, Jayalalithaa was humiliated by supporters of MGR’s wife Janaki, which led to a vertical split in the DMK. Earlier, In 1983 MGR had appointed her party’s propaganda secretary, and later nominated her to the Rajya Sabha, apparently impressed with her English communication skill. She is also fluent in Hindi. She successfully spearheaded the party’s election campaign in 1984 when MGR fell ill.
Now having been convicted in disproportionate asset case, Jayalalithaa may have become legally weak but she is politically strong. She has been sentenced to four years and fined a staggering Rs. 100 crores. She has gone to Karnataka High Court seeking bail. Much will depend on the decision of the High court.
Politically, however, she has never been on a stronger wicket as now. The AIADMK’s clean sweep of 37 of 39 seats in the Lok Sabha elections in May, this year, without any alliance with any party, underlines her position. Unlike her earlier two terms as chief minister—from 1991 to 1996 and 2001 to 2006—her third term since 2011, has been much more circumspect. Even if she cannot contest the 2016 assembly poll, she will be the party’s chief minister defacto as AIADMK has revolved round her and nobody ever challenged her authority. The verdict will not impact her authority and control over the party.
Jayalalithaa is the first serving Chief Minister to be convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act. But this conviction did not happen as matter of ordinary legal course. At every stage, attempts were made to obstruct and delay the judicial process. It is commendable that the prosecution and the judges involved in this case stood up to the pressure and upheld the principles of justice and fairness. The case moved to Bangalore in 2003 after the Supreme Court found several attempts to subvert the trial during Jayalalitha’s earlier term, starting in 2001. Yet, despite the protracted and tortuous course that the legal process took in this case, justice seems to have been finally done.
Jayalalithaa’s trusted aide and present Finance Minister, O.Paneerselvam, has been appointed Chief Minister in her place. In 2001, when she had to step down, it was Paneerselvam who was appointed her successor. There is no second rung leadership in the party and there is bound to be a vacuum. In the short-run, this will help her, but this could weaken in the party in the long run.
The 66-year-old Jayalalitha was born and raised in Karnataka, and spent most of her formative years in Bangalore, the city that will now be synonymous with her fall from grace. She was just two when her father passed away, a tragedy that drove her mother, Sandhya, to move to Bangalore with her children. Her mother subsequently took up acting, and soon became a recognized member of the Tamil film fraternity.
In Bangalore, Jayalalithaa attended the famous Bishop Cotton School, where she was known as studious student. By the time she turned 13, her mother convinced her to give acting a chance, and a star was born. The decision to become an actor led Jaya to shift base to Chennai, the hub of Tamil Film Industry where she would soon become a force to be reckoned with. She has acted in over 150 South Indian movies opposite top stars in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films. She even acted in Hindi films. She is fluent in all southern languages and has strong grasp of Hindi and English.
In 1965, she made her first two films with Tamil superstar MGR, 31 years her senior, with whom she would go on to star 26 other movies. She is reportedly the first Tamil actress to wear skirts in films. By 1973, she picked up three Filmfare Awards for Best Actress. MGR is widely credited as Jayalalithaa’s political mentor. He broke ranks with the DMK to form the AIADMK, the party Jayalalitha heads today. She formally joined AIADMK in 1982.
Jaya, who enjoys a demigod status in Tamil Nadu, has shared a turbulent relationship with Karnataka since then. After she emerged as a prominent politician in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa has maintained a studied silence on her antecedents, particularly her Kannada roots. (IPA Service)