Jayalalitha is probably the first actress who has become Chief Minister and a politician to reckon with. While a bunch of heroines are members of Rajya Sabha nominated by various parties, Jayalalitha in Tamilnadu and Vijayshanti in Andhra Pradesh are possibly the only ones getting into the active grassroots politics of campaigning and contesting.
Bollywood and Politics
Her well-known stint as an actress in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films had fetched her a few of Filmfare Best Actress awards in 1972 and 1973 but what it really did for her was introduce her to M.G. Ramchandran (MGR) – the man who metamorphosed from megastar hero to megastar politician. Along with him, Jayalalitha’s career also moved from films to politics as a part of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party founded by MGR.
AIADMK and Taking Over
Jayalalitha became the Propaganda Secretary of AIADMK and worked closely with the rank and file of the party. This made her known and admired within the party and also gave her enviable camaraderie with the large base of the party. When the high-ranking party members tried to oust her or at least diminish her importance within the party, it was her wide rapport with the majority of the party workers that held her in good stead. In 1984, MGR had a stroke and Jayalalitha is alleged to have tried to take over which led to her removal as Deputy-Leader of AIADMK.
Notwithstanding this widening gulf between them, when MGR died in 1987, as per the typical norm, the party members wanted his widow, Janaki Ramachandran, to take over. A spanner in these works was cast by Jayalalitha who laid claim on the post by saying that she was MGR’s political heir. In high drama, she claimed that the high-ranking members had physically kicked her out of the vehicle carrying MGR’s body to deliberately humiliate her. Despite of (or because of) all the dramatics, the party split into two with Jayalalitha heading one faction.
For Jayalalitha it was as much a challenge to establish herself in the state politics as it was to establish her faction as an eligible political party – and with tenacity and grit she managed to do this by winning 27 seats and becoming the first elected Leader of Opposition in the 1989 elections. In 1991, she went on to become the first elected female Chief Minister of the state. Since then she has had a rambunctious political career peppered with mud-slinging, court cases, accusations, dramatic losses and gains of power etc.
Not a Rajni Fan
Not known for being humble, allegations of Jayalalitha’s megalomaniac despotism and corruption are abounding. One of the most bandied around rumour is a face-off between Amma’s dictatorial acts and Boss’ (Rajnikanth) popularity. In her halcyon days, it is said that a couple of hours before she was due, the road she would travel on would be shut down. This was particularly troublesome for Madras because it meant that the main arterial road that everyone needed to use to go to office would be shut down at peak time. In one such instance, one of the people caught in the ensuing jam was Rajnikanth. Rajnikanth is not known to be a fan of Jayalalitha. Having got to know the cause for his delay, allegedly Rajnikant simply got out of his car, stood leaning against it smoking. His presence caused such a stampede that the police were forced to open up the road for him to pass – which everyone could move.
In 2001 Jayalalitha was barred from contesting elections because she was found guilty of criminal charges. Despite this, her party won the election and she was made the Chief Minister. Today, she is a major factor in the making or unmaking of coalition governments and an impressive force in the national political corridors. Over the past five to seven elections (at least) typically, Tamilnadu votes out the reigning party. Since she is in power right now, it is very likely that she will be out of power in the next election and the return with a bang after that at the age of 75 or 78!
By Sujata Garimella