Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, affectionately called ‘Amma’ by millions of people of the state, breathed her last on 5 December, thwarted by a cardiac arrest. In this article, we take a look at what is an extraordinary life that straddled two industries – films and politics – with aplomb.
The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, passed away at an Apollo hospital in Chennai on 5 December, 2016, due to complications that arose due to cardiac arrest. She is the last of the ‘movie star politicians’ that ruled the roost in South Indian politics, with MG Ramachandran and NT Rama Rao – both actors – serving as Chief Ministers of their respective states.
Here are a few nuggets taken out of Jayalalithaa’s life, a quite extraordinary story of ambition, destiny, stardom – and romance.
1. A gifted student gets forced into movies
Jayalalithaa’s movie career did not happen by choice but by force. Her mother, Sandhya, herself an actress, pushed Jayalalithaa into the movies to help the financial situation of the family. Jaya has been an academically gifted student until then, and initially she thought it would be a one-off occasion, but the movie offers kept coming one after the other, and before she knew it, she was a film star.
2. Meeting with MG Ramachandran
They met for the first time on the sets of Aayirathil Oruvan in 1965. Jaya has often spoken of her childhood hero worship of MGR, and how meeting him was a dream come true for her. The pair was such a hit at the box office that they appeared in a total of 28 films together over an eight-year period, each one of them a big hit. This first meeting in 1965 would set into motion a long friendship and romance between Jaya and MGR, a romance that would ultimately end up being fruitless, but would shape Jaya’s life both in her film career and her political one.
3. The ‘Draupadi’ moment
As a leader of the opposition in 1989, Jayalalithaa was brutally attacked and visibly molested by the ruling DMK members in the assembly in front of the assembly speaker on the behest of the then Chief Minister Karunanidhi. Jaya left the assembly in a torn sari, drawing a strong parallel to the Draupadi disrobing incident in the Mahabharata. At the moment of leaving, she vowed not to return to the house unless as a Chief Minister.
4. First term as Chief Minister
She kept her word to return as Chief Minister. Not long after the incident, in 1991, the ADMK allied with the Congress party and won 225 of the 234 contested seats to secure victory for the coalition. She became the first female, and the youngest, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to serve a full term. (The widow of MGR, Janaki, had served as Chief Minister for 24 days prior to this, and therefore became the first female Chief Minister.)
5. Imprisonment and return
In 2014, Jayalalithaa was imprisoned for four years as part of a disproportionate assets case, which disqualified her from the post of CM. The case was then moved to a special bench of the Karnataka High Court, which set aside her conviction on appeal, and acquitted her completely. On her return, in 2015, she resumed her duties as Chief Minister. Incredibly, in 2016, she was re-elected in spite of being pitted against ten parties who aligned against her. She said in victory speech, ‘Even when ten parties aligned themselves against me, I placed my faith in God and forged an alliance with the people.’