Jayalalithaa, born in a small town in Karnataka, went on to become chief minister of neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Amma to millions of her Tamil supporters. But if there is anything that defines her relationship with her native state Karnataka, it's bitterness and unpleasant memories.
A Sudden Twist of Fate
Jayalalithaa was born in Melukote in Karnataka’s Mandya district. The future CM was two when her father Jayaram passed away, a tragedy that drove her mother to move to Bengaluru with two of her children. Jayaram's first wife had filed a case seeking alimony and a share in the property owned by Jayaram. Between 1949-51, a local court directed Jayalalithaa's mother Sandhya to share the property owned by her husband with his first wife.
Many, including Jayalalithaa's extended family, believe that it was this decision of the court that compelled Sandhya to migrate to Chennai.
More than 65 years later, a court case brought Jayalalithaa back to Karnataka. On September 27 2014, Jayalalithaa, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison by the Karnataka High Court. The dis-proportionate assets case that went on for 18 years dethroned Jayalalithaa from power. She spent 22 days in the Bangalore Central Jail, before being released on bail.
Hounded by Kannada Activists
In the 1970s, Jayalalitha, then a movie actor, came to Mysuru for a film shoot. The state was in turmoil over demands for consolidation of Kannada-speaking areas under the name of Karnataka. It was during this time that an interview by Jayalalithaa to a Kannada magazine turned life-threatening for her.
In response to a question regarding her language skills, she said that though she was born in Karnataka and knew Kannada well, her mother tongue was Tamil, as she was born in a Tamil Iyengar family.
This sparked a controversy and irked Kannada activists. The expensive film sets were vandalised and shooting halted. The cast and crew, including Jayalalithaa, locked themselves indoors. The activists demanded an unconditional apology, which Jayalalithaa refused.
Despite repeated demands, she did not budge on the issue and stood by what she had said. It is said that when a mob tried to get into her room, she escape through the back door and left for Madras, still sporting the costume of goddess Parvati.
Estranged from Family
Strikingly, there is a near-absence of any family members at Jayalalithaa’s last rites, many of whom are based in Karnataka. The news reports about her family that trickled in in her last days in Apollo hints that she was cut off from them.
The late AIADMK chief’s ties with her family deteriorated with her rise in politics. NJ Vasudevan, Jayalalithaa's step brother who lives in Mysuru, was long alienated and had been disowned by her.
She had a major fallout with her younger sister Sailaja two decades ago, with Jayalalithaa cutting off all ties with her. Media reports suggest she even filed a defamation case against her siblings when they tried to make their relationship with her public. After Jayalalithaa's conviction in a disproportionate assets case was announced, Sailaja told the media in Bengaluru that she "deserved the punishment".
A Fiery Battle with Karnataka Over Cauvery
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have clashed over the Cauvery river issue for decades and Jayalalithaa is said to have added the maximum political fire to the dispute.
Each time the Cauvery row came into focus, it was Jaya sitting on the CM's chair in Chennai. From mounting pressure on the Centre to force Karnataka to release Cauvery water to stepping up political warfare, Jayalalithaa's shrewd manouvering ensured that Tamil Nadu got its share of the Cauvery waters.
In 1993, Jayalalithaa went on a sudden fast at Chennai’s Marina beach, bringing both Karnataka and the central government to its knees. She ended her fast after then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao's intervention and her stunt forced Karnataka to release water.
(This story was originally published on 6 December 2016. It is being reposted to mark J Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary.)