The Many Moods of Jayalalithaa

Jayalalithaa elicited extreme emotions. Contrary to popular belief, she felt them too.

Updated
India
4 min read
Jayalalithaa elicits extreme emotions. Contrary to popular belief, she felt them too.
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(This story was first published on 5 December 2017. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark J Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary.)

Contrary to popular belief, Jayalalithaa was human.

She was complicated, reserved, calculative, impulsive, and like everyone else, prone to a battery of moods.
Here’s a glimpse at her life and legacy, seen through the coloured lenses of emotions – those that she felt, and those that she elicited in others.

DISGUST: A Lifetime Fighting Misogyny

Even before the term came into use, Jayalalithaa was trolled incessantly, both within her own political party and by the opposition, simply for being a woman. Even today, across the world, politics continues to be a male-dominated field, with barely a handful of women in positions of power across Indian political history.

After MGR's death, at his funeral, AIADMK party cadres pushed Jayalalithaa out of the hearse, after repeatedly assaulting her physically.

This was symbolic of the fact that her place in the party was not assured, and that she didn't belong. A handful of supporters convinced her not to quit politics, and fight on. She took up the task, and in less than a year, consolidated power in the party.

In 1989, as an MLA, she walked into the Assembly for the first time. She was accosted by DMK ministers, manhandled and physically assaulted. She inherited the rivalry with DMK supremo Karunanidhi from MGR. Little did she expect to be attacked in the parliament, though.

The 'Assembly incident' became a turning point in Jayalalithaa's political career. She went on to become the CM in the next elections, and continued to fight misogyny for the rest of her life, in her quest for power and for peace.

FEAR: Jayalalithaa on What Frightened Her

Listen to what Jayalalithaa feared the most, and triumphed over, in her own voice (excerpts from the TV show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal, 9 and 13 April 1999)

In what was completely uncharacteristic of Jayalalithaa to bare all in a TV interview, on 9 and 13 April 1999, the world saw a charismatic politician rendezvous with host Simi Garewal. The people of Tamil Nadu, though, saw a miracle.

In chaste, typically Tamil accented English, Amma spoke about her childhood, her crushes on Shammi Kapoor and Nari Contractor (yes, the cricketer), and what frightened her.

The arc of a lonely little girl who grows into a talented, yet hapless young woman who is hardened by the fires of circumstances, unfolds in an inspiring tragedy.

It is Jayalalithaa’s month-long stint in a rotten cell of the Madras Central Prison, and her yearning for a mother who was constantly busy, that linger as her biggest fears. These – and of course, criticism – have always rankled her, regardless of where it came from, even if it held merit.

LAUGHTER: Jayalalithaa’s Comic Legacy of a Political Party

Here’s a stand-up on the state of politics in the state, especially within the AIADMK.

Jayalalithaa didn’t have much to laugh about when she was alive. As an actress, she was constantly irritated, since it was a profession she was forced into by her mother. As a politician, she was reluctant, reticent, and often misunderstood. What was worse about the political field was that unlike in the movies, she was not given a platform.

With MGR’s death, she was an instant pariah. As long as she was alive though, she set about consolidating power and position in a manner that would put Sun Tsu to shame.

But unlike her mentor, MGR, she groomed no one to take her place. She brushed aside questions of her legacy. It was almost as if she had drawn an elaborate political Kolam (rangoli), only to have it destroyed overnight by the elements.

And so with her death, began the comedy of errors that has become the AIADMK party. Even after a year, the state runs on auto-pilot, based on the schemes and systems she had set in place.

Meanwhile, the musical chairs continue. Completely slapstick, yet dead serious.

SORROW: The Tragedy of a Friendship that Never Was

Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were chalk and cheese – completely contrary in personality, ability and backgrounds. And yet, their relationship lasted a lifetime. At least, the lifetime of one of them.

It was in 1984 that MGR asked Natarajan – who was then handling his PR – to find someone who could assist Jayalalithaa, while she grabbed the party by the reins.

Sasikala was her companion, the one who managed house while Jaya went off to save Tamil Nadu. She was her trusty aide in money matters, and the one who brought Jayalalithaa back to the ground with her criticism.

To everyone else in the party, Sasikala was a moody, vindictive, selective barrier that blocked access to the CM. This was evident especially when Jayalalithaa was hospitalised. Literally no one, both from within the party or even the Centre, saw Jayalalithaa at the hospital.

Was she a true friend like she claims? Or was she the reason Amma died? The answer lies beyond anyone’s reach for now.

That Jayalalithaa’s life and death were tragic, is obvious to any onlooker. Despite one of the largest wakes after MGR’s, the Amma of Tamil Nadu died alone.

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