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The Goddess of All Things: The Rise, Fall & Rise of J Jayalalithaa

Former AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa passed away in December 2016 to an outpouring of grief across Tamil Nadu.

Updated
Politics
3 min read
The Goddess of All Things: The Rise, Fall & Rise of J Jayalalithaa

Tamil Nadu’s most popular Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa died at the age of 68 at a private hospital in Chennai in December 2016. She suffered a cardiac arrest.

Jayalalithaa had been admitted to Apollo Hospital over two months ago with complaints of fever and dehydration, on 23 September. There was hardly any information about what ailment she had, only constant health updates from the hospital authorities with minimal information were made available to the public.

It was also known that she was diabetic.

(Click here for all the live updates.)

Popularly known as Amma, which means ‘mother’, her fan following in Tamil Nadu was such that her devoted followers were known for absurd levels of dedication.

Following her illness, posters were circulated in the state condemning the fever that caused Amma to be hospitalised.

Then there were other posters condemning Apollo Hospitals for not curing her soon enough. In another case, someone sculpted Amma’s torso with his solidified blood.

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MG Ramachandran with Jayalalithaa in a movie still. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screengrab)
MG Ramachandran with Jayalalithaa in a movie still. (Photo Courtesy: YouTube screengrab)

A trained musician and dancer, Jayalalithaa debuted as an adult in Tamil cinema with a leading role in Vennire Aadai (1965). She appeared in films till well into the 1970s, winning many accolades during that period.

As an actress, she frequently worked with actor-turned-politician MG Ramachandran, who Jayalalithaa said had been instrumental in carving her entry into politics.

But her moment of reckoning came when Ramachandran died in 1987, with AIADMK at crossroads. She was left humiliated when a DMK leader tried to push her from the rostrum as MGR's body lay in the heritage Rajaji Hall.

In 1982, she joined AIADMK, which was founded by Ramachandran, and became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the first time in 1991. Subsequently, she was re-elected as Chief Minister four more times, the last time being in 2016 with a record-breaking margin.

Popularly known as Amma, which means mother, her fan following in Tamil Nadu had been such that her devoted followers are known for absurd levels of dedication. (Photo: Reuters)
Popularly known as Amma, which means mother, her fan following in Tamil Nadu had been such that her devoted followers are known for absurd levels of dedication. (Photo: Reuters)

Over the years, she commanded so much power as the ‘mother’ of Tamil Nadu that she was elevated to the status of a god, which overshadowed her flaws as a chief minister.

Her absence during the Tamil Nadu floods did not create outrage like it would have done in the case of chief ministers of other states, and neither did the disproportionate assets case against her have much of an adverse impact on her image.

Current BJP MP in Rajya Sabha Subramanian Swamy had filed a complaint against Jayalalithaa in 1996 for amassing disproportionate assets worth Rs 66.65 crore during her reign, which included farm houses, bungalows, agricultural lands, luxury cars, valuable metals, etc.

The different shades of Jayalalithaa. (Photo Courtesy: Youtube screengrab/ Reuters)
The different shades of Jayalalithaa. (Photo Courtesy: Youtube screengrab/ Reuters)

The case went on for 18 years, costing Jayalalithaa her chief ministership, until 2015, when she was acquitted of all charges by the High Court of Karnataka.

Twice she went to jail, once after the DMK government registered a corruption case in 1996 and the second time after her conviction in 2014.

But the ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ (Revolutionary Leader) proved all calculation of DMK holding power and came back doubly popular, scripting history by winning Tamil Nadu Assembly polls with a margin of 39,545 votes and winning 134 seats as opposed to the DMK’s 89.

Hailed as 'Puratchi Thalaivi' (Revolutionary Leader), Jayalalithaa debunked all calculations of DMK by retaining power in 2011, when she led her party to a fantastic victory by forming a rainbow coalition comprising DMDK and Left parties.

Since her entry into politics, her omnipresence gripped Tamil Nadu in ways that could have rivalled film star Rajinikanth’s popularity.

(This story was originally published on 6 December 2016. It is being reposted to mark J Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary)

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